Basic World Building uses the tools from 1981’s Basic and Expert D&D and reimaged in Old School Essentials to build a starting campaign setting. Even though it is based on Basic D&D, it could be used with other D&D rules or fantasy RPGs.
While world design starts with the dungeon in Basic D&D, I’m going to skip ahead to the wilderness and circle back. Wilderness design consists of seven steps. First up is choosing the setting which breaks down into three parts. For a new campaign, the rules recommend starting a small self-contained area that can be expanded over time.
For my first campaign of 1981s D&D, I want to run modules written by the rules authors. These include Palace of the Silver Princess, Castle Amber, The Isle of Dread, Master of the Desert Nomads, and Temple of Death. I don’t want to use the default setting of Mystara but instead make my own.
This means eventually I’ll need a kingdom with dragons and a princess, a tropical ocean of islands, and a desert location. To start, I need a fairly typical fantasy kingdom likely located near the ocean. My basic geography will be northern mountains with rivers flowing south through hills and forests to plains and eventually the ocean. I’m not going to map all this out to start, however. A smaller location within that whole will suffice although I’ll have a rough sketch of the larger setting. The desert may either be on the continent with the fantasy kingdom or on the other side of the tropical ocean. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning toward the latter.
My milieu will be fairy tale kingdom mixed with tropical and desert pulp. This exotic mix will likely be hinted at early with references to faraway desert assassins and terrible monsters of far island jungle islands. The world will be linked to both the land of Faerie and Hollow Hill, my version of Ravenloft, that will factor into Castle Amber’s connection to another world.
Palace of the Silver Princess requires a kingdom with a princess, a palace, and an order of good knights. My starting location will be Verge Valley located in the Boundary Peaks. The Silver Palace is located in the large town of Terminus. Barrier Knights, known for magical fire blades and healing berries and Barrier Captains riding dragons, protect the realm but are rarely encountered.
All barrier knights first encountered a mystical flame before deciding to take an oath and become a knight. A mentor might have shown them the flame, the flame may have appeared to them, or perhaps they went on a quest to find it. The flame, once found, is obviously ancient magic of life and creation. A would-be knight must thrust their primary hand into the flame and repeat the oath the fire whispers to them if they are found worthy. Those who are rejected are badly burned, and the flame extinguishes for them.
Barrier knights who swear their oath are marked with a red tattoo of fire on their primary hand and choose either the order of the green or the order of the horns. Barrier knights of the green can tap the tattoo once a day to cast goodberry (see below). Barrier knights of the horns can tap the tattoo once a day to cast flameblade (see below).
Barrier Knight Oath
Carry the Fire. Through acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness carry the light of hope into the world and oppose darkness and despair. Let your deeds shine like a bright flame.
Shelter the Fire. Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world you must stand against the wickedness that seeks to destroy it. Where life flourishes, oppose the forces that would render it barren. Be a barrier between the flame and those who seek to extinguish it.
Preserve the Fire. Delight in song and laughter, beauty and art. If you allow the fire of honor and bravery to die in your own heart, you can’t keep goodness blazing in the world.
Be the Fire. Be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair and need the light. Let the flames of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds. Oppose evil and drive away the darkness.
Barrier Knight of the Green
Duration: 1 turn
A handful of 2d3 magical red berries appear in hand:
▶▶ Healing: Each berry heals 1d3 points of damage.
▶▶ Number a day: A person can only be healed by 1d3 berries a day.
Barrier Knight of the Horns
Duration: 1 turn
A blade of flame that does not burn the wielder appears in hand:
▶▶ Damage: The caster can make a melee attack with the blade that deals 2d6 points of fire damage.
▶▶ Treated as magical: It is able to harm monsters which are normally only harmed by magical weapons.
Palace of the Silver Princess has the fey Protectors recruiting the PCs to save the princes. I’m going to instead make the PCs be those Protectors by choosing whether to take the Barrier Knight Oath and use their flameblades to cut through the ruby barrier to save the princess. Not all PCs have to become knights. If no one chooses to become a barrier knight of the horns, then I’ll need to have an NPC on standby, likely the trapped barrier captain’s squire. In this way, the PCs will be drawn directly into the adventure. The palace and those trapped within will be covered next month.
I’m not worried about the PCs’ knight spells causing an unbalance. Every PC can have one, and they will quickly grow into the power as they gain levels. Low-level D&D is deadly, and this will help them but not guarantee victory. And really the PCs should be the protectors, not NPCs. The PCs seeing the ruby wall surrounding the palace and their encountering the oath flame will kick things off nicely.
With the setting developed, I don’t need to go into the next steps of wilderness building. Instead, I want to design a base town. In addition, I want to tweak the Palace of the Silver Princess to make the dungeon design my own. I’ll be tackling those designs in the next couple of articles.
Creative Commons credit: City of Rocks by BoldFrontiers.
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