FuckedWorld – Core Assumptions

Since I first introduced you all to the concept of FuckedWorld, Glen has posted his own initial thoughts over on his blog, and the emails have been both fast and furious between myself and the G-Unit (there you go you stupid fucker, I finally used the nickname you gave yourself when we were teenagers – never let it be said I don’t love you, man). I’m going to explain the FuckedWorld methodology in brief, before I cut to the meat of today’s article.

Our method is, appropriately, fucked. We do the work by email, sometimes sending a couple mails back and forth in a single day. It’s turn based – he says something, then I say something. We seem to have, thusfar, managed to keep each statement to a couple of short paragraphs. Each article will be centered around a single topic (with the person who didn’t pick the topic getting “first say”), and we’ll go back and forth until we feel we’ve established what needs establishing – the whole thing is likely to come out like more of a discussion than a polished article, which is good: I think it provides an interesting window into setting creation and collaboration.

We agreed that the first topic should be the nine core assumptions of the D&D game (as presented on page 150 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). We flipped a coin, randomly giving each of us “authority” over different assumptions, just to get that really fucked feeling that we want for FuckedWorld. So, without further ado, I present to you our debut piece.

The World Is a Fantastic Place (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I’m so glad that I got this one, because it’s central to pretty much my entire concept for this world.  The planet is in fact the prison for a living deity at the centre.  How is that not fantastic?  Also, the remains of the many long dead gods are strewn about the world.  In my head these can take on all sorts of different shapes and sizes depending on who they come from, for example a piece of the former god of combat may take the form of a sword.  In my idea, these can provide different powers or knowledge to the inhabitants of the world.  Acquiring these should serve as motivation for heroes and villains alike.

Brian says: While the concept of “the world is a god” is cool, I have to be honest – I’m more enamored of your concept of God Shards that have been cast down the the surface of the “prison” (i.e. the world). One has to assume that a fragment of a god, torn from his/her body during the violent throes of death, is going to be one fucked up…whatever it is. I just think its important to highlight that while the god shards can provide power, motivation, and information for every benevolent god shard out there, there’s probably three that are confused or crazed. I’d also suggest that the more power/awareness a shard has, the larger it is – thus that sword you mention is a powerful artifact, but truly formidable shards are the sort of immovable things temples and shrines get built around.

Glen says: Not sure about that, because if the big ones were all powerful, then they would have been more likely to have been found.  I like the “good things come in small packages” idea for these, and could be very unpredictable.  Although to have mountains or lakes as very powerful God Shards sounds great.  I do love the idea of the crazed shards, or shards that could be too powerful for mere mortals to handle.  Perhaps a profile for the fallen gods would be needed to have some sort of standard process for the powers/punishments that they bestow on the people who find them.

The World Is Ancient (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: As I said, civilizations have existed for thousands of years.  The empires of the past could easily be explained by saying that the first races to rule where the first ones to start to exist, after their God Shard fell to the surface of the planet.  I like the idea of there being an ancient empire that was the first race to discover arcane magic.  They held power across the globe for centuries before the arcane secrets were stolen and shared across the other races who rebelled against them, creating the balance we now see.

While my first instinct would be to have this race be humans, that doesn’t seem fantastic enough.  So let’s go all in with the fantasy theme here.  The world used to be run by Dragons until recently.

Brian says: Let me respond with a counter-proposals. Absolutely, I agree with your “not humans” idea – both because you’re right, it isn’t fantastic enough, and because it jibes nicely with my whole “civilized races on the run” concept. Instead of dragons, what about efreet? I suggest them for two reasons, one conceptual and one pragmatic. From a concept standpoint, dragons are always the secret arcane beings in the background – think Dark Sun or Dragonlance. Efreet are magical, cruel, powerful, and not nearly so omnipresent in fantasy. From a pragmatic standpoint, efreet are size large – dragons range from size large to size gargantuan. If you want to set an adventure in the ruined city of that old empire, I think it works better if its a little closer to the characters’ size – gargantuan cities with doors the size of a house are only a novelty once.

The specifics of which race are the “ancient ones” aside, I like this idea that the oldest race one ruled uncontested until its unique advantage (magic) escaped from its clutches. Somewhat off topic, but germane if magic was the principal edge in the old empire – where do you see psionics fitting in?

Glen says: Sold on the Efreet!!!!  They fit it perfectly.  Especially because they would be the perfect race to have Magical Steamships, which they used to dominate the entire globe.  Eventually one of the other races found a God Shard that gave birth to the other Genies, the Djin, Dao, and Marid who helped steal the powers of magic from the Efreet, and a massive rebellion took place against the overlords.  However, after they pushed the Efreet back to the far corners of the earth, they began infighting and shattered their front against them, instead carving their own kingdoms, which exist to this day.

As for Psionics, I like the idea of it being just discovered before the game starts.  Like all of a sudden a few days ago, Psionics were “turned on” which is set to be a game changer in the world.  I kind of wanted this to be done for magic, but it changes a lot of the game.

The World Is Mysterious (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: No longer the case – though there certainly are bastions of ignorance left in the world, many of the mysteries of the land have been solved by the diligent work of explorers, cartographers, scholars and academics. I like the notion that many of these mysteries were solved during the days of the mightiest nations – nations which have now fallen, but their secrets are readily available from the learned men who still know them.

Glen says: I can buy this one for sure.  Especially when it comes in with the God Shards.  I mean if the knowledge of the gods is potentially available, who is to say that it hasn’t been found by someone or another?  One change I would like to make though, is that knowledge has been by and large kept into the hands of the elite.  While it is possible for most people to know something, it is not incredibly common, probably because the civilized races are “on the run” so most people don’t have time to study and what not.  The reason I make this suggestion is actually very pragmatic in nature.  I think for gameplay reasons, it is easy to have a lot of the world shrouded in mystery to the PCs.  It limits the amount of pre-story that you need to say as a DM, and it’s way more fun to have the secrets of the world explained in character so the players will have some connection to it.  So yeah, lots of information is readily available for those that have the time not being killed to access it.

Brian says: Absolutely agreed – when I said that “the world is mysterious” is no longer the case, I was talking in a broad strokes, top-down fashion. The secrets of existence, the laws of how the world (and, I suppose, the greater cosmology) have been discovered by some of the people of the world – but absolutely, leave the potential for the PCs to be kept in the dark. We could even go so far as to say that the so-called “civilized” races were, for some reason, the ones left out of the wisdom of the god shards – which would help explain the supremacy of “monsters.”

Monsters Are Everywhere (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I’ve got to say I’m pretty stoked to have wound up with this assumption because it, along with assumption six (“the civilized races band together”) allows me to really invert a traditional trope. Monsters are everywhere, but not in the traditional hiding places – certainly some monsters prowl the countryside, but for the most part there is little danger in the wild. Instead, the monsters rule mighty nations – kingdoms of trolls or orcs, mightier than any elven or human nation. The dungeons of this world are not ruins or underground temples, but are instead the military camps or fortified towns of monster-ruled nations.

Glen says: Cool!  I always wondered why there were so few monster empires in the world.  There’s occasionally a token orc or goblin kingdom, but nothing other than that.  Sure they are evil and conniving, but I’m sure they can band together long enough, especially under the lead of a strongman.  Now the obvious question is, how do these monster kingdoms interact with one another and with the nations of elves and humans?  I mean, do they live in uneasy peace or in a constant state of war?

For some reason a Kingdom of Troll slavers inspires me a bit.  They conquered old lands of elves, dwarves, and orc, and use them as labour.  As they routinely run out of fodder, they make frequent raids on nearby towns, but so far have proven to not be stopped.  Trying to end this threat could be the basis for several adventures or hell, a whole campaign.

Brian says: I’d say most of the monster kingdoms exist in a state of uneasy peace with one another, while their attitude toward the player races is one of somewhat uglier hostility. The notion of a troll kingdom that has a particularly nasty attitude toward slavery (i.e. they like it) is one I like also. Trolls, in virtually every edition of D&D that I can think of, always have regeneration – and it occurs to me that they just might not be able to comprehend the notion that other people can’t regrow limbs – not because they’re stupid, its more like a sort of culture shock. Combined with the fact that they probably aren’t super-concerned with the well-being of their slaves to begin with, and you’ve got a recipe for consistent slave raids.

Adventurers Are Exceptional (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This to me is the most important and non-negotiable of all of these assumptions.  Changing any of the other assumptions can make the setting more memorable or fun, but this one is crucial for enjoyment of the game to me.  If I wanted to be another face in the crowd, I’d stick to real life thank you very much.

Brian says: Another possibility is that adventurers are not exceptional – but that the death of adventurers is even less exceptional. If the player races (if monsters have civilizations we can’t keep calling PHB races the “civilized races” now can we?) are declining, maybe the only reason they don’t exist entirely in slavery or history is that there are a lot of adventurers fighting the good fight. Sort of a bloody, brutal fighting retreat from the brink of obscurity and extinction. I’m hardly married to this concept, but it’s a thought.

Glen says: Hmmm…I’m not certain to be honest.  I think I like the grim nature of our world, and to have the PCs serve as “the only hope” adds some excitement and urgency to the campaign.

The Civilized Races Band Together (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: To be perfectly honest, they fucking well should have. If they had, then maybe the kingdoms of humans or dwarves would rival those of the monsters who now rule the majority of the known world. As it stands, the racial prejudices (I’d prefer to avoid the tiresome elf v. dwarf stereotype and find more interesting sources of racial intolerance, quite frankly) of the “civilized” (read that: PHB1) races are what continue to keep them divided – and what assure the supremacy of their enemies, the “uncivilized” (read that: Monster Manual) races.

Glen says: I like this idea of all of the races hating one another.  However, it does create some sort of problem for creating a campaign.  Do you want to have a party consisting of all one race, or rather have them constantly have to deal with not liking one another?  It could make for some challenging role playing.  I think that the other races should hate one another, but perhaps there is one small town on the edge of civilization (i.e. getting raided by the Trolls) that they are forced to band together a bit, and that’s where the campaign is set, to avoid the odd challenge of setting up a multiracial party in a world of hatred.

Brian says: I’ve given this a lot of thought – both why do the player races hate one another, how do we make mixed-race parties a functional reality, and (this one’s slightly off-topic) what separates the “player races” and the “monster races” – as we’ve already established that the monsters are just as “civilized” as the player races. Off the top of my head, concepts for mixed-race parties include: the ever-popular “you’re all slaves of the trolls, so you hate one another but too bad” method, “your town on the edge of civilization” method, or the simple but effective “yeah your people hate one another, but its an alliance of convenience because extinction is way inconvenient” method. I think the important this is that, as a rule, the races dislike one another – and certainly, single-race parties are a viable approach, but I’m more interested in the notion of the mixed-race party coming to town, only to be told that “we don’t serve dwarves here!”

Magic Is Not Everyday, but it Is Natural (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I don’t really have a good reason for this, but that’s sort of what this whole project is about in the first place – I always lean toward low-magic, preferring characters rely on their own skills and wits than some mystical deus ex machina. For that reason, and that reason alone, I think I want us to go high-magic. I don’t really have anything specific in mind, just a commonness to magic that allows it to fill a role traditionally occupied by science – by way of an example, imagine a steam engine based on summoning both a fire elemental and a water elemental in small, enclosed space. The Hobbled Griffin could very well run on such “technology.”

Glen says: I have always been enamored with the idea of magical sci-fi!  I think it is really cool and far to under-exploited in fantasy.  The problem though is creating rules for things like steam ships and what have you.  Although I suppose that it existed way back in Alphatia in Mystara, so it could work here with some tweaking.

I think that the technology should be common enough to add fantasy to the world (i.e. magical street lamps, steam ships, and the like) but not end up stealing the show.  I like the dark vibe we have with dead gods, and humanity on the run.  We don’t want to clutter the setting too much with extra noise.  Still though it can add a lot of flavour to the setting, and that’s exciting.

Brian says: One of the simplest methods of preventing “technology” from running amok, in my opinion, is to add a few changes to the way magical items and permanent effects come into existence. I don’t know exactly how we’d go about it, but I’m thinking we use the defiler-method – apply some sort of cost to magic, so it doesn’t go overboard. For example, the Hobbled Griffon’s “engine” was modeled after the older Spelljamming helms – except instead of needing a magic individual to sit in the chair and pilot it effortlessly, instead a slave is strapped down and his life-energy is slowly sucked out of him for “fuel.” Simpler effects (a +3 longsword, and whatnot) may not come with such an ugly cost (or maybe they do, who knows), but massive magical engines or other devices do – that alone should keep the skies from getting too full.

Gods and Primordials Shaped the World (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This is pretty much crucial to my entire concept of this world.  The Planet is a god, stuck in an age-old prison and is possibly dying.  She was put there for trying to sit out the God War.  All of the other gods are dead, but their spirits have helped to shape the world, and continue to do so.

On another thought, since there was nothing but nothingness before the planet was created, I will need to explain the presence of heavenly bodies.  The stars at night, are of course distant bright God Shards with special powers.  This to me, means that they should be glimmering a variety of different colours.  Also, by a bit of abstraction, I think that means that there is no divide between the space and the atmosphere, so a powerful enough flier could fly straight to the stars..  I think that there should be no moons in the sky, although I’m not set on that just in case there are some moon related think (like Lycanthropes) that would be too difficult to change for a minor thing.  Lastly, the sun is in fact a nameless casualty of the god war.  That’s right, the source of life is in fact a dead god burning for eternity.

Brian says: First of all, I love the notion that the sun is the corpse of a god, forever ablaze after a fateful battle with a fiery primordial. That’s just cool shit. I’m perfectly open to a moonless world (I think we can work around the Lycanthropy problem pretty easily), and the idea that the starry sky is actually the cosmic equivalent of Flander’s Fields strikes me as delightfully morbid. While I can get into the lack of a separation between the atmosphere and outer space, I think we need to work out some sort of explanation for why travel to the stars isn’t a common thing. While I think the potential is cool, I don’t think we want to create a new Spelljammer that focuses specifically on that.

Glen says: Yeah I was thinking about the interstellar travel thing, but we can just say that they are incredibly far away, and there is nowhere else to land.  It could make for some cool epic level adventures, building a flying ship to go all the way to land on the sun and so on.  I think that a small thing about the stars that could add flavour is that they are constantly floating around.  This sounds small, but it does mean that there will be no constellations, which makes it harder to navigate long voyages across the oceans.  I’m sure it would still be possible, but getting lost has far more reality in this situation I think, adding to the dangers of our world.

Gods Are Distant (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I take this to mean in a spiritual sense, since a planet god is pretty much as close as you can get to your deity.  The inhabitants of the world, don’t even know HER name, and are never really in communication with HER.  Different sects worship different concepts, or aspects of HER personality.  For example, there is a movement that worships that idea that she is dying, and one that worships her life giving aspects and so on.

Brian says: One possible notion is that the only beings with any avenue of communication with the imprisoned god are the god shards themselves, effectively turning these disembodied remnants of what used to be into prophets of a sort. I also want to be sure we’re on the same page – my read, from what you’ve written, is that the imprisoned god (I’m thinking of allusion-style names, like the Mistress of Shackles, but something that sounds less like a nightclub dominatrix) is the only being capable of granting divine (i.e. paladin/cleric/etc.) classes their abilities. God shards can, and probably do, provide guidance and insight, but clerics could theoretically abandon the teaching of their order’s shard and continue to be a functional cleric. That opens up a lot of possibilities surrounding the concepts of losing faith, turning from your god, etc.

Glen says: Mistress of Shackles is so going to be my new on-line handle!!!!  Errr…maybe not.

And yeah, I wanted to have one god who grants all the powers, but the clerics are of different concepts about their god.  It makes it sort of like the factions from Planescape, but a bit more focused and functional.  I’m not certain of what would happen if a cleric abandons their order and goes rogue.  Perhaps the orders can have central, holy, temples that are conduits to the core of the world.  Like, the Temple of the Order of Death could be in the middle of an inhospitable desert, while the Order of Magic could be floating on a cloud.  If a cleric abandons that order they lose that orders powers (domains, or whatever the hell you call them now), but can pledge allegiance to a new one if need be.  It makes religions a bit more regional, but does add Holy Cities to the game, which could make for some pretty fantastic locations to visit.


Brian says: Alright man, I think we’ve got a pretty good start on our hands. Some crazy concepts, and a few ideas that have serious crazy potential. Since the coin tosses gave you five out of the nine assumptions, I’m going to pick the topic of our next article. Of course knowing us, the topic we start with probably won’t have much to do with the topic we end on. Next time we’ll be starting out on the Efreet. You have anything else you want to say to put this puppy to bed?

Glen says: I’m happy with the way things are going. I want to think about the Efreet thing before posting, it all looks good.