Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fending Them Off


Every campaign has explicit or implicit boundaries placed on its technology, even if those boundaries wrap around a bit of a mish-mash (armor and weaponry from the 'Dark Ages' to the Renaissance, anyone?).  Wampus Country is a bit of a mish-mash as well, blending the 18th and 19th centuries as the mood suits, leaving in some Medieval and Renaissance constructs, and leaving out a few pretty important things.

As I pull down pictures to use as blog-fodder and inspiration, it's very easy for me to say "that's Wampus Country" or "that's not Wampus Country".  It's like matching puzzle pieces to a feeling - the whole process is pretty wobbly, really, but each step forward clears out a little more fog and I get closer to what I'm looking for.  It's a matter of filtering - letting in the ideas that 'feel right', and fending off the others - hence the title of this post.

The hardest decision to make was the inclusion of firearms, since it would really shift the assumed mindset away from 'D&D variant' toward 'fantasy western' where it is now.  I wanted long-rifles and cannon and revolvers, but I didn't really want cowboys - or, at least, I didn't want "cowboys" as a setting element to overshadow the other touchstones - wilderness explorers, fur-traders, and the like.  Maybe we can refer to that line of thinking as "revolvers, but minimize 'cowboy'".  Even when it comes to illustrations, I'm trying to avoid cowboy hats in favor of bowlers, top hats, coonskin caps, and the occasional tricorn.  And I don't know that I can rightly explain why - it's as though to me (at the moment) the cowboy hat symbolizes a totally different path down which I don't want to wander.

Some other choices that have been made along the way during setting design include:

No detail on the 'Western Kingdoms'.  The Western Kingdoms are the coastal, 'civilized' area west of Wampus Country, from which the frontier population hails.  And that's all they'll ever be.  No country names; no number of them, because it doesn't matter.  It's enough that they are the (marginally more Renaissance-y) kingdoms that the Wampus Country has left behind.  They exist in the setting to represent the "civilized", possibly decadent, physically-distant 'past'.  Now, maybe this is a total cheat, or laziness.  Entirely possible. 

No steam power.  I liked the idea of revolvers and waistcoats, spectacles and umbrellas, but I didn't want steam-power.  No trains!  Which means no steamboats, either - and that was a harder one to let go of.

No electricity.  No telegrams means an increased need for couriers and messengers, which suits low-level play just fine, far as I'm concerned.

Keep big magic unusual.  Mortal wizardly-types in Wampus Country are dabblers, herbalists, astrologers, or savage shaman-types.  The really big magic belongs to NPCs, both good and bad - witches, the fairy of the mountain, Queen Mab, sleeping demigods, and the like.  As a PC wizard climbs in level and gets 'bigger' magic, it's because he's uncovering secrets from sources like these.  There isn't much middle ground of fifth-to-eighth-level magic-users; there are the lowbies, and the oh-my-goodness.  No armies of battle-wizards and that sort of thing.  We'll see how well this goal holds up in play.

Re-skin anything common.   What I mean by this is that if I use an 'orc' stat-block, it had better be as 'the Vulture-Men of Buzzard Gulch'.  I want Wampus Country to feel "D&Dish" because it's full of exploration and action, not because it contains the 'humanoid ladder' (albeit with rifles and dusters).


  1. Hey Erik, if you haven't already read the excellent "west marches" articles on Ars Ludi ( you should. It's the inspiration for my home game, and he touches on a few points that would be relevant to your game world too (especially "no detail on the Western Kingdoms").

    Personally, I think you're pretty brave to have gunpowder and rifles... I have always kept them out of my D&D games.

    1. And how courageous are those who have laser pistols, cloning vats, and freaking-giant mechas in their D&D? :P

  2. Thanks, Dylan, I'll check that out.

    I don't know about 'brave', but going gunpowder was a huge decision for me, and one about which I agonized for some time.

  3. Shootin' iron? You talkin' shootin' iron? Boy howdy I could talk yer ear off on that.