Need some brainstorming help with my Campaign setting

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I received some very helpful advice on designing a continent for my homebrew world and was hoping I could get the same valuable direction for the campaign setting I am working on.

One thing I have noticed about Campaign settings is that they all seem to have one or a few things that stand out as "Wow, that's different" and with well written history and descriptions they bring the quirks of the Campaign to life. For Forgotten Realms it would no doubt be the magic and in depth content with the setting's history. For Greyhawk it was the deities (at least in the Campaign I played in), and in Eberron it was the Warforged and the Great War that seemed to still linger in many of the nation's cultures.

I have created a homebrew world that I want to run my players through and I decided to give the setting my own little flavor so that it will stand out. The world has all of the familiar races: Humans, Halflings, Dwarves, Elves, Half-Orcs, Gnomes and of course the monstrous beings that will act as non-playable characters.

Kingdoms of all races litter a vast continent called Arakahn and everyone is still reeling from a Great War that happened many years ago. Only the races with the longer lifespans would have any real recollection of the war (such as the Dwarves, Elves and Gnomes) but many other races only know of the Great War through lore and passed down tales.

The Great War came about during the worst of times in Arakahn when many of the Nations and Kingdoms were battling each other. Taking advantage of the situation, a great undead and demon army marched from the south and poured out in all directions. Large sea vessels carrying more undead and demon warriors came from the south and threatened to eradicate every Arakahn nation.... everyone except for the Elves that is.

For reasons unexplained, the two Elven nations were never attacked and for even stranger reasons... no assistance was given by the Elvish council and only a few thousand Elves participated in the battle which have all but died.

The rest of the races set aside their differences and united together just in time to push back the evil that had swept over their land and drove the dark armies back to the south where they discovered a portal to be the origins of the attack. An epic battle waged and the allied nations of Arakahn succeeded but at a great cost. Many nations had fractured into much smaller empires and entire kingdoms had been swept away in the the great attack. Every Kingdom was left with their own scars.

Humans went back to their rebuilding as well as many other races... but unknownst to the the rest, the Dwarves had not forgiven the Elves for their neutrality in the time of need. Deep within the Dwarven mountains... weapons and armies were being trained.

--------------

Now while this works for now... I wanted to give reason to why the Elves didn't participate in the Great War. I'm working with a couple of ideas, one I'm favoring now is that the Elves are somehow divine creatures that have been placed on Arakahn centuries ago by their diety (Correllion perhaps). The other races have naturally grown up on Arakahn and the rest of the deities are upset that the Elves were granted physical form (a sought after trait deities in my campaign wish for) that an agreement was forged that the other races would go unaided when one of the other dieties attempted to establish his own kingdom within Arakahn (the undead/demon invasion).

I'm not sure if I'm happy with that and while it may never be revealed to the players I wanted to come up with a sensible explanation as to why the Elves wouldn't of helped during the Great War which has lead to most of the other races disliking them (creating a bit of racial tension between the Elves and the Dwarves) as I have future missions/adventures revolving around that.

Anyone who has read this novel and cares to throw some ideas out there I would appreciate it.
My feeling is that unless your players are going to primarily be Elves and Dwarves it's not a terribly compelling campaign twist.

The unique aspect of your world should matter to players. Forgotten Realms' history is attractive (to some) because it places characters within the context of a massive cycle of intertwining myths stretching back centuries - they can point to almost any point in the Realms' histories and go, "That was an adventuring party exactly like us, and what they accomplished was remembered forever." Dragonlance's dragons and gods were great because they directly empowered ordinary people - anyone could end up on the back of a dragon wielding a dragonlance, and anyone could bump into Fizban wandering down a road near their home town.

In designing your world, if you're looking for a unique aspect, you need to think what this does for your players - in what way does it make them want to be in the world, rather than just sitting back and reading a book about it? What is the aspect they want to experience rather than hear about?

Maybe the dwarves are building giant mechanical sky-copters that players can obtain and fly. Maybe the elves have a tradition of passing down magical blades that mould themselves to the wielder's personality, that PCs can eventually get a hold of.

Just think to yourself - what is it in your campaign that's going to make your players go "Man! I have got to try that!"
My advice for 'explaining' the Elves lack of involvement in the war?

They did not want to die. They have very long lives and would value them greatly. Perhaps the Elven leaders choose to make a deal with the undead invaders to avoid loss of Elven life. Or created an enchantment that hid them from the Undead. For plot purposes, the Elves in the present time might feel guilty about what they did and seek to restore their ruined reputation with the other races.
Now while this works for now... I wanted to give reason to why the Elves didn't participate in the Great War.

Okay, brainstorming
* The elves didn't participate because their god told them not to. Perhaps the divine message was a trick, or the god knew that the enemy would fall but a greater threat was coming and the elves would need to be at full strength to fight it.

* The elves didn't fight because they were secretly behind the attacks.

* The elves did fight, just not with the other races. They waged the war on the other side of the portal.

* The demonic threat had another portal in the heart of the elven capital. If the elves joined the war the evil forces would have swarmed into the elven forests.

* The elves were to concerned with their own lives and wanted to work on a defence. Such as hiding in the woods, making their cities magically invisible, or perhaps a magical shield.

* Elves are natural pacifists. They never kill unless its to eat. Elves that kill are branded rogues and banished from elven lands and cannot enter the elven afterlife. (This would make an attack from the dwarves even more tragic, but make the elves who fought in the war more heroic).

The rest of the races set aside their differences and united together just in time to push back the evil that had swept over their land and drove the dark armies back to the south where they discovered a portal to be the origins of the attack. An epic battle waged and the allied nations of Arakahn succeeded but at a great cost. Many nations had fractured into much smaller empires and entire kingdoms had been swept away in the the great attack. Every Kingdom was left with their own scars.

The biggest problem I see is this:
First, you have the bad guy: undead and demons invading from a dark portal. That's World of Warcraft (the Scourge, the Burning Legion, etc).
And the alliance of all the other races has been done before. Starting with Lord of the Rings and onward from there.
If it was Orcus behind the invasion it's less obvious and works, but there's lots of other evil or menacing figures/races/creatures that could be used. Such as elementals and archons (which could also work with the elves' motive. as the chosen of the gods, getting involved might re-start the war between primordials and deities).

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Maybe the elves could only field a few thousand soldiers effectively. If the elves fight with mostly bows and arrows and hide in forests, they won't be very effective against skeletons (resistant to piercing). The same goes for spears. The elves' weapons might have been mostly enchanted with negative energy effects at the time. Elven mages might have been mind manipulation masters who couldn't do much against mindless opponents. If many elven priests were evil and could have helped using 'command undead', do the elves want to let the other nations see just how many of their priests can do this?
if this is your first homebrew, you'd better start smaller. most of the details will be lost on your players, and if you try to base your campaign on those details, they'll likely be lost as well, and you'll end up railroading them.

same applies for most purchased campaigns, however. players are usually quite oblivious to details, they just like a general feel of a campaign. you need to give them smaller pieces, they, as you, have to grow into a setting first.
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57870548 wrote:
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If anyone tells you someone else did it first, that means it's a good idea. (And almost nothing from WoW is original, it's just done well).

Personally, I think the elves should have been involved, and heavily. Go at it sort of Warhammer style.

The portals that were opened were a result of the latent magical energies of the world getting stirred up by spellcasters. Every time a spell got cast a little 'rift' would form, and eventually these coallesced into a literal hole things could move through.

The elves did not fight a battle with demons and monsters, they fought the actual energies involved. In a great ritual, thousands of elves came together and gave their will and strength to the creation of massive riftstones that act as anchors. Magics move through them, and restore the balance and mend the tears.

While this did destabilize the portal (and thus it is now either closed completely or much less open), the vast majority of the elves were consumed doing it. Even today there must be a watch of at least 100 elves per stone to maintain the barrier. While every other nation believes that the elves sat idlely by, they were nearly destroyed.

And though everyone hates them for it, they refuse to reveal the truth because the riftstones hold incredable power. If someone of ill will were to obtain control over one, they would have control of a major fraction of the magical energy of the world as well as the potential to reopen the portal. The elves don't believe the other races are mature enough to be trusted with this information, so they keep it to themselves.

Of course this works best if the locations they live are highly isolated, but that seems to be implied (deep forests, islands in the ocean, magical floating cities, etc).

This also gives you some plot hooks and whatnot for villians/campaigns, and makes elves not total dicks (in case a player wants to play one).
Thank you all for your input it has been a great help with my creative block. To clarify, my entire Campaign isn't going to rely or focus entirely on the tension between the Dwarves & Elves, that was just the only part I was having trouble brainstorming. In my experience of DMing, you only become better when you're able to invite yourself to criticism and while the Evil dark army from the portal has been done before, JRGumby is right when he pointed out that if it was enjoyed once, it can be enjoyed again if done right.

I personally liked The_Jester's ideas:

Okay, brainstorming
* The elves didn't participate because their god told them not to. Perhaps the divine message was a trick, or the god knew that the enemy would fall but a greater threat was coming and the elves would need to be at full strength to fight it.

* The elves didn't fight because they were secretly behind the attacks.

* The elves did fight, just not with the other races. They waged the war on the other side of the portal.

As well as JRGumby's

If anyone tells you someone else did it first, that means it's a good idea. (And almost nothing from WoW is original, it's just done well).

Personally, I think the elves should have been involved, and heavily. Go at it sort of Warhammer style.

The portals that were opened were a result of the latent magical energies of the world getting stirred up by spellcasters. Every time a spell got cast a little 'rift' would form, and eventually these coallesced into a literal hole things could move through.

The elves did not fight a battle with demons and monsters, they fought the actual energies involved. In a great ritual, thousands of elves came together and gave their will and strength to the creation of massive riftstones that act as anchors. Magics move through them, and restore the balance and mend the tears.

While this did destabilize the portal (and thus it is now either closed completely or much less open), the vast majority of the elves were consumed doing it. Even today there must be a watch of at least 100 elves per stone to maintain the barrier. While every other nation believes that the elves sat idlely by, they were nearly destroyed.

And though everyone hates them for it, they refuse to reveal the truth because the riftstones hold incredable power. If someone of ill will were to obtain control over one, they would have control of a major fraction of the magical energy of the world as well as the potential to reopen the portal. The elves don't believe the other races are mature enough to be trusted with this information, so they keep it to themselves.

Of course this works best if the locations they live are highly isolated, but that seems to be implied (deep forests, islands in the ocean, magical floating cities, etc).

This also gives you some plot hooks and whatnot for villians/campaigns, and makes elves not total dicks (in case a player wants to play one).

I think I'm going to mash the two a bit together and go with the fact that the Elven God (a deity much like Corellion) made the ultimate sacrifice eons ago when he placed the Elven race onto the mortal realm due to him losing a war in the heavens. The Elves, having divine blood would explain their unnatural beauty and grace along with their ties to magic.

Unknownst to the other deities though, the Elven God's choice to sacrifice his immortality meant that he could now influence the mortal realm directly while the other gods had to rely on their worshippers & followers. Then the Great War happened... portals opened, dark armies of (still deciding on what the evil army would be but I liked the idea of Archons and Elementals) that were spawned from a Dark God. The Elven council, now influenced by the knowledge from their once divine leader, were instructed to cut the cords that bound the mortal realm to the divine and sought out to bring back the rift stones that would make it possible.

Through much ritualistic and arcane power, the Elves were able to channel their energy through the rift stones and seal the dark portals. These actions however, resulted in many deaths in the Elven nations and while the rest of the races believed the Elves took no part in the war, the irony lies in the fact that the Elves were the very ones who saved Arakahn from destruction.

While the Rift Stones are for now safe, perhaps through the Dwarven march (when the Dwarves decide to take out their hatred on the Elves), the Rift Stones will be left unguarded once more allowing portals to be opened for only Dark Gods know what can come through them.
I just read all that and went "Whoa, generic fantasy campaign ahead."

Random political intrigue between Elves and Dwarves is quite bland at best. It doesn't seem particularly unique from any other setting in particular. Your players will still be

-Saving the Princess
-Killing the Goblins (Or Undead/whatever)
-Raiding the dungeon.
-Fighting the Dragon (or Demon/whatever)

If there's anything I learned in my time as a DM it's that epic backstory that doesn't directly affect players..won't. If they can happily ignore the details as I have, they can and will.

Exactly what possibilities does this setting/twist open for players? What, are they going to have..gosh, trouble dealing with dwarves and elves because of a political split? Say it isn't so! The PC races aren't in a harmonious mishmash!
Quite frankly, this plot twist would be easily incorporated into any other setting, such as Dragonlance's rivalry between dwaves and elves and how they did not fight the dark armies, the competing houses of Eberron, or the many disparate elven/dwarven factions in FR.

Something that WOULD be different/interesting would be if the Demons/Undead won. Setting twists are interesting because they would likely break other settings. For example, a world ruled by an evil empire of magic, etc.
I just read all that and went "Whoa, generic fantasy campaign ahead."
...
Something that WOULD be different/interesting would be if the Demons/Undead won. Setting twists are interesting because they would likely break other settings. For example, a world ruled by an evil empire of magic, etc.

Twist worlds are probably better reserved for advanced DMs AND groups. When the group is just trying to get the basics down and struggle with the nuances of "saving the princess" or "stop the goblin hordes" you don't want the world to complicate things.

There's a reason the most popular settings of D&D have been Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms (aka 110% generic) to say nothing of Greyhawk.
Even Eberron is pretty much generic fantatsy with a dash of pulp action and magi-tech. I wouldn't suggest beginners go right into Dark Sun or Spelljammer or Midnight.

With that in mind don't waste too much time on the past. Adventures are about the present. It's good to know where problems came from and current conflicts for consistent adventures, but it's unlikely to come up often.

One trick is to write-up a hand-out of 10 things you know. A brief 1-2 page introduction to the world and what the common folk know. You could even adjust it for PCs (an elf one, a dwarf one, etc).

An unrelated suggestion: you could also bring genasi into the mix. They're from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (but date back to 2e) and are humans with elemental blood. They might be the result of war or humans (or other races) born near elemental battle sites or by portals.
(a preview for races is still found on the Living Forgotten Realms page, you can download the racial stats here:
http://www.wizards.com/rpga/downloads/rpga4_frpgpreview.zip)
As a brand new race for your world (less than a generation old) they might be causing other political problems.

How to move the background to the forefront
For something like this, with a big war, it's easy.
There might be scars from war everywhere. Have your adventures set on overgrown battlefields where there are still discarded bones and weapons from both sides.

A war against elementals makes it more interesting because they could have reshaped the terrain or truly scarred the land. The PCs might rescue the princess from a tower built on the corpse of a enormous earth elemental titan.

5 Minute WorkdayMy Webcomic Updated Tue & Thur

The compilation of my Worldbuilding blog series is now available: 

Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding.

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