It’s April 2011. Osama bin Laden is still alive. The world has fewer than 7,000,000,000 occupants. Kim Jong Un isn’t yet officially the big boy in charge of the DPRK. Ukraine was still peaceful, China still had a One Child Policy in place, and America had yet to fully transition into realigarchy, or rule by reality television stars. It was a simpler era, a more stable era. Most importantly of all, though, in April 2011 Jeff Rients wrote a blog post entitled “twenty quick questions for your campaign setting” and nerds around the world followed in step, answering the questions on their own blogs to flesh out their settings, inspire fresh thought, and give readers a window into their worlds.
Here we are, a little more than seven years later, and I am going to be wildly late and participate anyway. It will be like I just showed up to a raging house party on the Thursday after it happened, but I sit out in the yard screaming loudly with a stereo and some beer anyway, while the people inside have to smile awkwardly at their neighbors and try to mow the lawn around me.
So let’s tap that keg and get started with some doughy nerd handstands on garden furniture, folks, because it’s time to make with the questions and answers:
What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?
I dunno, man. People believe some weird stuff. Who knows what is real and what isn’t; what is made manifest by the collective willpower of the many and what is forged by whatever gods may or may not be out there. Your cleric believes in something. It might be different from what the priest living in the next county over believes; maybe not by very much at all or maybe by enough to start a war (the line between the two might be vanishingly small, too). Maybe your cleric believes in the same god as mine, but by a different name; maybe they believe in an altogether different god but are comfortable believing in mine too. Maybe they believe there’s one omnipotent god in charge of creation or maybe they believe in a pantheon or maybe they believe in primal, spiritual forces without real shape or name. But they believe something, and that faith seems to get results, so either their beliefs are so valuable as to create power all on their own somehow or there really is a god or gods out there doing something about it.
Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Common gear can be purchased from most bazaars and markets, where trade goods and simple crafted wares are plied by local merchants. Here you can find your iron spikes, hemp rope, candles, torches, poles, etc. at reasonable prices. Thanks to being such common implements for everyday life as well as adventuring, their ubiquity leads to general stability in pricing except in times of particular crisis (are the orcs killing iron miners again?), and these common goods are needed just about everywhere humans live.
Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Fat chance. That’s going to end up being a quest unto itself. The world may have many blacksmiths, some of whom can repair various armors with patchwork jobs of varying quality, but armorers are a specific breed of blacksmith and their specialization places them in major cities and near large military garrisons and outposts. This means it’s probably unfavorable to bring a monster into town or amidst soldiers trained to fight off such interlopers. Then, the smith may be hesitant even if you did manage that much, for the sake of his reputation. It would cost a pretty penny, but you’d have your best luck in the more metropolitan locales, where demihumans are treated with detached apathy or curiosity and afforded a modicum of respect, rather than fear and suspicion. It will take some work, though, to convince even the most worldly of armorers to clad your displacer beast pet in the barding of a warhorse – it’s a dangerous business!
Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
That would be Aquilevras the Seer, whose prismatic tower shines brightly in the sunlight near the peaks of the Hexmount. He is said to know more than any other mortal man and even the ageless elves, and many speculate about his nature. He is said in some tales to be mad, but in others wise; perhaps undying or possibly dead-and-back-again; beyond the concerns of man and nature or maybe just biding his time until the chance to rule over all with an iron fist aligns in the stars. Whatever he really is, though, his magical might is uncontested. No one alive, nor anyone’s forefathers, can rightly remember a sorcerer of greater potency. The elves know him. The dwarves know him. The feral druids of the wildlands know his name and face. Even the goblins in dark caverns have heard of him. His legend is known far and wide, and just when you think to yourself, “It’s been so many years; perhaps he is dead,” his tower sprouts an impossible new minaret or immense lights dance across the sky spelling arcane symbols above his mountaintop demesne and disappearing just as quickly. Aquilevras the Seer is surely the absolute authority of wizardry.
Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
According to each county, their local favored warrior must be the greatest of all fighters. Spring tournaments attempt to settle the score regularly, but rarely do any of the barbarian tribes, mountain men, dwarves, elves, outlaws, outlanders, or assorted other combatants of the world manage to attend the festivities – leaving the question unsolved. And surely no one has polled the hobgoblins, their brutish orc cousins, the lizardmen of the marshlands…
Who is the richest person in the land?
It’s impossible to know for sure, given the age of the world and the riches in it. If we exclude the elves and their ancient hoards and the immense vaults of the dwarves, the men and women of the world squabble over gold and silver and gem frequently. Seagoing merchants boast of their wealth and just as soon lose it to the first thief who finds it. Kings live lavish lifestyles and are slain and overthrown by competitors to their thrones. Money is a mercurial thing, and the richest out there wisely keep it to themselves. Some rumors abound about the prince of all thieves, though, whose collection is said to be of immeasurable worth.
Where can we go to get some magical healing?
That depends on who you know or what you need. For most wounds short of mortality itself, there are often healers at large shrines and temples who will aid those of just causes aligned with their own beliefs, or others, for a sufficient tithe. The cost and reluctance of these services are variable depending on the healer, the church, and the company kept by those who seek aid. For lost limbs, you would need to find the counsel of a particularly powerful wizard, and be prepared to pay a much stranger price. Fatal injuries are not readily corrected.
Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poisons can be fixed by apothecaries and alchemical scholars. Diseases are fixed by your local clergyman’s prayers, or perhaps the local chirurgeon. Curses can be lifted by wizards, witches, and some priests; lycanthropy would be the same folks. Polymorph and magical alignment change or other transmutations would require the intervention of wizards or witches more powerful than the caster who struck you down. Death, undeath, and level drain are permanent, as far as anyone can tell.
Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
There are rumors of collectives of wizardly men and women spoken of by scholars. Mages are often reclusive and jealous, or at least wildly insane, and only get more antisocial from there as time goes on; most do not fit the mold of a group mentality as such. Those wizards who do manage to form a commune will be known to sages as time goes on, and those learned folk will form opinions as to the reputation of the group; it might be considered a scholarly pursuit of great import or it might be considered an unsavory cult. It is not uncommon for wizards to take on individual apprentices, however.
Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
You’ll generally find alchemists and apothecaries in cities of sufficient size to attract trade caravans likely to contain the material components their work requires. Sages, wise men, blind oracle-sisters who have memorized the text of the seventy-seven scrolls of St. Juniper, and other such folks have found homes all over the place. Some reside in temples and abbeys, some are loners in shacks in the outlands. Some are employed by queens in castles.
Where can I hire mercenaries?
Most major cities will have rough men waiting for work, but even smaller outpost towns have folks who will take odd jobs for coin. A village may not have a trained first-level shieldmaiden ready to take up spears with you against goblins without a second thought – but it would certainly have porters, torchbearers, and the like, and probably a few would-be warriors of the zero-level variety who might prove useful. The larger the community, the broader the pool. Worst case scenario? Poach the guards of a traveling caravan, or the city watch, with an offer they cannot refuse!
Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Yes, definitely. Weaponry is expected to be knotted with a peace-bond in many major cities and surrendered in noble courts or their proximity. Arcane magic is regarded with great suspicion in major cities and generally not practiced anywhere near prying eyes, for the most part; though exceptions to this exist, they are extremely noteworthy.
Which way to the nearest tavern?
You’re looking for the High Barrel, probably, which is the alehouse and inn of the crossroads town of Halfmark. It is frequented by traders on their way to and from several major locales, and is a common resting point for these caravans as the regions between are dangerous and wild places. It is run by a jovial woman named Gertrude. Her husband is rumored to be descended from dwarves, but most people think he’s just a little on the stout side, even if he does brew an amazing ale. You’ll find it on the north side of town just a few minutes away from the town square; it’s the long hall with the second storey and the great red sign out front.
What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Rumors abound of a giant worm wriggling through the surface of the northern counties, breaking the surface to abscond with whole cows in its jaws. Start there; life is tough in the north and they would surely tell tales of a roaming mercenary capable of slaying an unseen chthonic terror.
Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Sure, all over the place. The world is in constant petty turmoil; humans are plagued by short lives and shortsightedness. The lands are dark and dangerous and dotted with small beacons of civilization – for varying degrees of that word – clawed back from the wilderness by force of will and hard work. Wherever two such havens meet, eventually some sort of covetous conflict will emerge. Lords and ladies around the land will pay those who serve as soldiers. And all of this is merely the clash of human iron on human iron; it does not speak of places where concentrated bands of hobgoblins and their ilk wage war on the settlements of man or elf, or where a dwarf digs deep enough to find teeming hordes of foes ready to fight his kin for dominion over cavern and mountain and hill.
How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
There likely are, somewhere. Maybe in the wild outlands where life is cheap and deadly, or perhaps in the underbelly of a grim and sour city rife with corruption somewhere in the south (where all such rumors seem to reside). Maybe one of the cities where the slavers call home has such violent sport as entertainment. But as far as most common folk will ever know, there is not, especially if you discount the various spring tournaments where those inclined go to prove their mettle and achieve fame and favor from nobility. Still, there’s enough word of such things to make one begin to wonder.
Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
More than you can count. The world is full of unknowns; there are more questions than answers for every mortal and most of the elder races as well. The landscape is strange and full of mysterious places and alien folk. Many towns are barely tied to others, kept involved in the great concept of civilization only by the trickle of traveling traders that visit and swap stories of neighboring counties. In such an environment, everywhere is different, conspiracies evolve from everything, and secrets abound. One such cult is the order surrounding the masked prophet who speaks of dark portents from beyond the stars. They are known as the Omenspeakers, and they are considered heretics by just about all of the various civilized churches. They conspire to overthrow the order of things and release the true chaos of existence and send mankind into debauched extinction to herald the coming of the chaos promised in the dark corners of the night sky and the secret constellations of the old ones.
What is there to eat around here?
Have you tried the forest mushroom stew? It’s a local specialty that the High Barrel is famous for. In fact, it’s just about all they serve on a nightly basis, along with mutton, but their clientele don’t seem to mind. Hell, most of the faces in the building change every other night as caravans pass through, so few would be around long enough to grow sick of it. But it is hearty, and flavorful, and plentiful, and cheap, so eat your fill!
Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
More than could fill all the pages in all the books in the land. The most literate and knowledgeable sages can remember only a fraction of the lost treasures of ages past, like a handful of sand on a beach. Each region, each culture, each people – all have their own memories of gold and steel lost to the dark corners of the world and the passing of the seasons. You might want to start by seeking the legendary Lordmaker sword, a blade forged by ancients for their mightiest general, passed down from warlord to warlord as they conquered the greatest breadth known to mankind. Its memory is long and and said to contain knowledge of the innumerable campaigns waged by its wielders. Truly, it is a relic of great power and value all by itself – but perhaps it remembers treasures beyond the recollections of others.
Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Word has it there’s a colony of massive rocs swooping through the canyons to the east of Halfmark, once favored by caravaneers for the shade but now too dangerous for use as a trade passage. They are said to be attracted to the glint of gold and glass and bauble, and perhaps even the sound of metal itself – and survivors claim they carried off whole wagons worth of valuables in their talons towards their nests high in the Aerie Peaks that border the canyons on their northern wall. You might try there – if the tales are true, they must have a hundred caravans worth of treasure filling their homes.
So I suppose that’s twenty quick questions about my campaign setting. If it isn’t translating into text well, I like to play around in a world where things don’t have so many answers, and the world is undiscovered and ripe for adventure and exploration. I like things to take shape from the actions and decisions of the players.
The other day, on 28 July 2018, Wizards of the Coast put on a Founders & Legends stream event guest starring Luke Gygax. Before the final star-studded game of the night, there was an interview hosted by Satine Phoenix, and part of that conversation brought us a few moments of Mike Mearls discussing the changes that D&D has undergone over the years to remain relevant to the wants and needs and interests of each generation who has started playing it since its creation. This resulted in Mr. Mearls stating that D&D used to be about mystery and adventure and a sort of search for the unknown and mystical – which has fallen out of favor. He went on to say that the current generation of D&D players doesn’t care for this, and wants to experience a sense of immense scale to their high fantasy, and, to paraphrase, they want to experience a big fancy story for their big fancy characters.
I couldn’t feel any more inclined towards the opposite if I tried. The D&D I love is about the mysteries and mystical, the unknown and the unknowable. There’s dots of familiarity and order across the landscape, and a whole lot of danger in between. There’s an infinite number of ways to play, and how you play is just as valid. But at my table, if I am left to my own devices, the game is going to give rise to more questions than it gives answers, at least to the broad questions of the cosmos or the far reaches of history or the myriad other things we humans ponder. I think it’s good for us, in a way, to embody a character who also questions things beyond their own scope, who asks questions they cannot possibly have answered – but seeks it anyway. It’s relatable, and in that relativity we get close enough to be awestruck by the sheer size of the unknown and fantastic, the unexplored, the unsolved, the undiscovered and impossible. I want that sense of wonder and adventure, and that is how I find it. I hope you find what you’re looking for at your table, too.