Setting and Theme: How do you play?

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I find myself curious, what sort of worlds and stories do you guys run in your current (or favorite, or any) games, and in regards to theme what sort of elements tend to come up?


For my current group, i'm running a post apocalyptic setting- long ago powerful mage societies created a utopia across most of the world (named Edean) using the power of their magic to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring prosperity to the people. The land was a paradise, and the people content.

Then the war began: the countries- as the result of the greed and ambition of their ruling-mage-class cast new spells of horrific power upon each other, with the intent of razing cities and bringing death to their enemies. But such great Arcane power cannot be controlled, they collapsed in on themselves, becoming sentient manifestations of god-like magic power- rampaging across the lands and destroying everything in their path.

They were unstoppable, all the great cities fell- centuries of civilization, culture, and the legacy of millions annihilated over the course of a few weeks. The people cried out to the gods for help, but even the gods were powerless before the might of such weapons. In the end, a tiny fragment of the population survived the end, taking refuge in the wilds of the underdark as the surface became a shattered wasteland.

Now, (about 200-500 years after the fall i think, i haven't decided) a  remnant of a remnant of a once great city ekes out a bare-bones existence as a village in the underdark. The players are members of this village- a village faced with the very real and constant threat of total destruction by the foul civilizations of the underdark, the monsters that roam the vast network of tunnels, and even simple starvation.

And of course, even if they were to survive those threats- the surface, and it's god-like tyrants await.


The background of our game is dark and gritty- filled with tragedy, and for the time being  survival is the primary goal, but it's heroic fantasy nevertheless- the PC's seem to be going with the "determination, camraderie, and defiance in the face of insurmountable odds" route, which i'm fine with- i love those stories (Gurren Lagann and Naruto come to mind). it's really good, i can't wait for them to get settled in and more confident in their playing!

So your turns, anyone care to share and compare their own fare?

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Eberron setting.  200 years after the last great war and tensions are brewing once again.  The various nations are plotting against each other, forming alliances disguised as trade exchanges.  Dark, evil and full of jelly ! (10 pts to whoever gets that reference). 

The adventure began in Sharn with the discovery of an underground burial crypt.  We played the Ashen Crown module and from there I went into more custom things taking freely from modules etc..  It's been good fun so far.  They met their first Gelatinous Cube last weekend and there were deaths.  The party is being manipulated left right n center by the nations, factions and even people they believe to be friends.  Everyone has ulterior motives, and those who don't are the most dangerous.

They are being hunted by powerful forces, being blamed for events that transpired under their noses but didn't realize had importance.

The people in the shadows are gathering their forces, getting ready to rekindle the fires and let loose the dogs of war...

A great shadow flies over the Mournlands, a bellow can be heard from the north and the hags of Droaam twitch their webs, preparing to pick a side of the conflict.

Already the drums begin to beat, swords are sharpened and the smell of death begins to spread.

It will fall on this band of misfits, thieves and killers.  Barbarians of civilization, to save Khorvaire. 
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

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My setting is one I designed in 3.5e originally.  Sort of standard fantasy setting, but I like the classics.  I initially had a plan for one campaign story-arc, and designed the world and it's geography for what I needed for that story.  I developed it more as I ran games in it, but my pantheon was initially just the Forgotten Realms pantheon.  When I decided to make it a full-fledged setting, I designed my own pantheon, but had to make some deities almost carbon-copies of their FR counterparts in order to not completely mess up the backgrounds of the paladin and cleric in the party.

When 4e came out, I changed a lot, and moved the timeline forward (ironically copying one more thing from FR in order to sweep the last vestiges of it from my setting).  Part of the changes that occured in that timeline was a great war between the primordials (a new threat, not some ancient, never-mentioned-before enemy) and the gods.  Some gods died, others waned greatly in power, and a few new ones arose.  Part of the changes was the loss of delineation of "racial pantheons".  Moradin was now the god of invention, creation and smithing for all races, Corellon the god of art and beauty for all races, Bahamut the god of protection for draconic and humanoid races alike, etc.

But the setting remains pretty recognizable as the kind of fantasy as "core" D&D.  There's a few odd places, such as one major human city where drow live openly among other races, a city of civilized kobolds, and an entire nation of dragonborn that live in a society modelled closely after feudal Japan (with true dragons as the daimyos over the dragonborn samurai and commoners).  But mostly, I like the classics.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Eberron (didn't like what 4e did with it), Dark Sun (loved what 4e did with that), and other, unusual settings (like yours, TMS), and like to play with those on occasion, but my default preference and the setting I run is what I have mentioned here. 
We've had several campaigns in a growing homebrew setting taking place during a thousand year war between the free creatures of the cosmos and the enslaved creatures to the nine hells. The Devilbane and Demonbane feats have seen some milage from my players XD
I wrote a campaign world that was designed to be a sandbox for the players to play in from 1-20.  In that world there are a lot of unusual things, but I don't use any of the 4e races as per normal.  Humans are the only crossovers, however if someone really wants to play something odd I have no problem making them a strange creature visiting from elsewhere or something.

The main two differences between my world and the typical points of light setting are these:
1) Divine, Primal and Arcane are all one power source.  They are all pulling energy from elemental spirits.

2) The world as the players know it is very "new".  There haven't been old empires stretching back thousands of years.  There aren't any old ruins, or sacred ancient orders.  Everything is new, fresh and everyone is figuring out how the hell things work. 

I actually just started a blog of my Saturday sessions if anyone is interested.  For now it is only the raw audio of the session (chopped up into more manageable bits) but it will be a good bit more later on.  The goal is to have the raw audio for people to listen to if they choose, but to be able to talk about topics and splice in clips from actual gameplay.

Feel free to listen to it here:
everygrain.blogspot.com/ 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
Show
Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Very cool post.

My setting is an "Empire in decline" setting where the players are heroes in a realm where ages of heroes freed the world and then, later, organized the world. Since then, however, the grand kingdom has fractured back into its component pieces.

The adventures the Players have embarked on thus far have had to do with pushing back the classic "encroaching darkness" that seeks to weasel its way into the cracks of civilization as well as rediscovering the wonders and greatness of the old empire.

The setting itself is one of high fantasy with many different races interacting with one another as well as several technological advances like limited steam & electrical power (depending on the part of the world). Currently the PCs are investigating an ancient imperial keep that has been occupied and warped by the forces of Chaos (the literal power) and worshippers of the twisted goddess Echidna.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

My players and I collaborate on the world, theme, and setting. I used to come up with stuff for them, and I still contribute my ideas, but when it was just me try to interest them I never felt like they were engaged, except out of that politeness gamers use when they're trying desperately to hook into the backstory because they really want to play. Now they're very engaged, because what is happening in the game stems directly from their ideas, and they enjoy seeing these developed futher by everyone at the table.

We only recently adopted this approach, when starting Demon Queen's Enclave. So far, it appears that they enjoy a setting that takes its cues from the real world, which is not too surprising since a few of us are Eberron fans.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Like Chiba, my setting falls into the "standard fantasy setting."  There are several "kingdoms" in the East all ruled slightly differently (Hereditary Monarchy, Republic, Military Dictatorship, etc).  All of the eastern kingdoms are "civilized" so as a houserule there are no barbarians allowed (I did this because, in my opinion, the barbarian class is over-powered).  None of the kingdoms are ruled by truly evil persons, but some are corrupted.  Skirmishes break out from time to time, usually over land, but there has been no outright war for several hundred years, although...sssshhhh...that may change   Black powder weapons do exist, but they are rare, VERY expensive, and can be unpredictable (imagine the earliest real world cannon and firearms).

The West is a different story, the Eastern Kingdoms only know the area as the "Western Lands."  Those who have ventured there have never returned.  So very little is known (good thing too, because I have not developed it yet ).

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RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
The world I set up for my group is basically Points of Light except that Humans are nearly extinct and most of them don't even know it because they're so out of touch with other pockets of civilization.  Three is really only one major Human city left (Nerath) and probably less than 50,000 Humans left alive.  Turns out a certain deity who originally created the Humans has gone a bit berserk and now seeks to wipe them out and replace them with a better version, using his prototype Humans as his army.  Apparently he's jealous of the fact that humans are worshipping other gods and seeks to deny all the other gods the power that Human worship provides.  Fortunately, these new Humans are not the bad guys everything thinks they are; they're just misguided and given the right circumstances, can be shown the light.  And there's nothing really new about them either ... they're just Humans that can be easily resized from Huge to Medium with the proper magic, which makes them powerful warriors.

The party started out in Fallcrest and spent most of Heroic tier discovering other pockets of Humanity spread around the world, particularly an underground city called Cynidicea, and linking them up with teleport circles.  Most of Paragon tier was spent battling the new Humans (which they dubbed Aryans) who were released from their home with the "Chained God" in the Abyss by use of the long-abandoned teleport circles, and trying to prevent their genocidal campaign against Humanity.  Epic tier has them disovering that the only Human in the party and the NPC she has a psychic link with are both somehow linked to this Chained God and it is their duty to go to the Abyss and stop him once and for all.  They will discover right at the end that they are avatars of the Chained God and the reason he went mad was because he was split into seperate beings.  If they merge with him ... well, who knows?  And what will happen to Humanity afterwards now that they potentially have a new god on their side?

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

"Your ability to summon a horde of celestial superbeings at will is making my ... BMX skills look a bit redundant."

"People treat their lack of imagination as if it's the measure of what's silly. Which is silly." - Noon

"Challenge" is overrated.  "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."

"Falling down is how you grow.  Staying down is how you die.  It's not what happens to you, it's what you do after it happens.”

We have a Harn game, a Scales of War game, a Spellscared game, and my homebrews.

One is based on 2000 years after a 2nd Ed campaign I played way back in college, where the Elves and Eladrin have taken over, and completely rewritten history to suit themselves. As a result, there have been a number of complications, but the elven races are one of the highest socially ranking groups, followed by the dragon empires (1 mentallic empire, 1 chromatic), and then the Dwarves on the wall guarding against the barbarians, shifters, humans, and other undesireables. Even the lowest tiefling is more socially acceptable than a human. The only things lower than humans are the goblins and the half-elves.

And then there's my not-quite Ravenloft world.