Some time back, inspired by the philosophy of “Imagine the Hell out of it,” I sat down to come up with a campaign world that worked within the guidelines provided by the original LBBs of D&D, yet didn’t kowtow to the traditional fantasy themes and clichés. As purely a mental exercise, rather than one intended for actual use, I gave myself a one hour window to come up with as much as I could that adhered to the rules suggested in the books, but required no new house rules or modifications. I took off all creativity governors and started brainstorming. What follows is a slightly cleaned up version of the setting that I came up with in those sixty minutes. Certain things like names and places were neglected for the sake of cramming as much as I could in that time frame.
Many, many centuries ago, the race of humanity (or a human analog) stared up at the stars from their dying world. Their home stood on the brink of extinction and their sole hope for survival was the colonization of a new world amongst the stars. As this branch of humanity was more enlightened when it came to arcane and occult forces than those of technology, they lacked the ability to travel amongst the stars in the safe bosom of starships and space vessels.
Sending their senses outwards into the galaxy, they discovered a small world many light years away, which, with some terraforming, could be modified to support human life. While this branch of humanity lacked technology, they did possess certain strange arts that would allow them to cross the void of space and set about making this world their own. This art, now long lost, was akin to the method John Carter used to arrive on Mars in the tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs; a form of astral projection and re-embodiment on arrival. In order to survive the harsh conditions the planet posed to these new settlers, the first wave of pioneers were modified by occult means to make them more resilient to initial conditions; being reduced in size and gaining heightened resistance to hazardous compounds and energies. This first wave of settlers was known as dwarves, so named because of their resemblance to mythical creatures from humanity’s past.
The dwarves arrived on this new world and began carving out subterranean holdings in which to construct the necessary equipment and conduct the needed experiments to tame this harsh world. In the course of their excavations, they unearthed something very large and very old. This creature was more akin to a god than an animal, and while it slinked away into the deeper depths of the world, the dwarves held it in awe and a religious faith was founded on the veneration of this creature.
As the dwarves continued to modify their new home world and the atmosphere became more suitable for life outside the caves, they had first contact with some of the bizarre indigenous creatures of this world. Some were mindless animals, while others possessed an unexpected intellect. As the climate of the world changed, many of these original inhabitants would die off, while other underwent mutations and adaptations that allowed their continued survival.
Once the atmosphere allowed humanity in its unaltered form to survive extended exposure on this new world, the second wave of settlers arrived. These humans first dwelled in the underground complexes built by the dwarves, but soon spread out to build settlements on the planet’s surface. Amongst this second wave were the followers of a new metaphysical path of enlightenment. Seeking to avoid the events which caused their initial flight from their former home, these enlightened individuals sought to achieve mastery over their own minds and bodies, as well as conduct lives that were more in tune with the natural world around them. Through study and practice, this sect of humanity learned to align their chakras and focus their chi in order to prolong their natural lifespan and achieve mastery in both the martial and mystical arts. Because this mastery was dependent upon the arrangement of their metaphysical energies, they must focus and properly align their chakras each day in a pattern most suitable to whether they sought to perform actions of physical might or mental acumen, never allowing both to exist simultaneously. These aesthetics would go one to become the elves.
As the centuries past, humanity and its descendent races settled the majority of the planet and their accomplishments in both the arts arcane and technological soared to undreamed of heights. Humanity even scraped the stars in a more physical means, sending the first orbital satellites and vessels aloft. But humanity is a foolish species, and soon the old arguments and animosities they thought they left behind on their dead world began to arise again. This time, there would be no escape from conflict and that conflict would almost exterminate humanity and its brethren from the cosmos.
Millennia have now past and humanity seeks to rebuild itself and reclaim its former greatness from the ashes of the history. Much of the great arts have been lost and the wilderness has overgrown the once mighty empires of Men. New races lurk in the outlands; some being the offspring of the indigenous inhabitants of the world, while others are mutated experiments spawned during the height of Man’s scientific inquiries. Superstition is rife and the old ways of technology are no longer understood as they once were. Churches have sprung up that venerate the gods above, not knowing that these “gods” are merely the artificially sentient orbital satellites and weapon platforms that still pass overhead. Some still seek to recover Man’s technological heritage; in the north, the Lightning Lords conduct ineffable experiments in their high mountain redoubts. Others delve into forgotten underground places in search of humanity’s lost treasures.
The races of this harsh world are divided; some serving the forces of Law and attempting to carve out a new civilization amongst the ashes; others serving the cause of Chaos so as to ensure the world remains a place where only the strong and malicious survive. This world is yours if you are brave enough to take up arms and fight for your place in it.
That’s what I had after an hour of brainstorming. There were a few other ideas that didn’t quite make it to the general overview, such as having the solitary surviving dome from Valley Forge, complete with a much decayed Dewey as its custodian (see the movie, Silent Running), crash landed in a radioactive desert, but you get the general idea.
I don’t know if I’d ever use this setting in actual play, having invested a lot in my more standard fantasy setting of R’Nis, but it was an interesting experiment to see what I could come up with when I wasn’t so concerned about taking a visit out to Bat Country to look for ideas.