What world plunging chaos events have occurred in your world? #dnd #dungeonsanddragons #rpg #tabletop #DMtips #GM #musings #dungeonmaster #trending #dungeon #dungeons #thoughts #thoughtoftheday #roleplaying #gaming #game #chaos pic.twitter.com/saJ6dBUMVb
— Master John (@beerwithdragons) January 20, 2018
What world plunging chaotic events have occurred in your world?
When I think of world plunging chaotic events, I often think of wars, famines, disease, contact with deities etc. It is important as a Dungeon Master (DM) to consider the history of your setting (game world). Let’s look a little bit smaller in scope to illuminate the larger scale.
A setting is simply described as the world in which your Playing Characters (PC’s) and Non-Playing Characters (NPC’s) live, adventure and interact with the world around them. Non-Playing Characters (NPC’s) are the characters or personalities you as the DM bring to life with funny accents or character ticks. Don’t worry about writing out tomes of history from the beginning of time up to where your players enter the world. This is a bit frivolous and won’t benefit anyone except your own hubris. What I mean is that your goal as a DM is to present the lore or history of your world in a dramatic way.
Matt Colville explained this wonderfully in the Lore vs Writing YouTube video at minute marker 19:02. Below is the clip from The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers Matt Colville is talking about. The source text for the scene is derived from the novel J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, “The King of the Golden Hall” (Chapter 6).
DM TIP: Have a few events that shape the immediate world ready and develop this history through the narrative. The narrative or story is what you as a DM are helping create through shared storytelling with your PC’s. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through the Specific Conflict, Drama or Central Tension you create.
Your narrative needs Specific Conflict, NPC’s need Drama and your campaign needs a Central Tension.
I’ll break this down into three inter-relating examples, but first some vocabulary so we are all on the same page.
Vocabulary: Simplified terms from Feudal Europe 700AD-1400AD with my unique setting spin.
Royal Family: Consists of The King, Queen, Princes, Princesses etc. The head of this family, The King, governs the Nation.
Fief: A large parcel of land given by the King to a Nobleman Vassal to govern and provide the Royal Family with goods, food, protection, and taxes.
County: A smaller parcel of land within a Fief given to a Baron Knight to govern.
Nobleman Vassals: A Nobleman Vassal that someone who is of a prominent family of social standing. They are given a Fief from the King to govern and produce goods, yield food and cultivate protection for the Royal Family and accept taxes. The Nobleman Vassal’s govern the appointed Fief in the administrative and financial aspects. They provide counsel to the King as an appointed official of the Royal court. A Nobleman Vassal receives goods/taxes from each of the Baron Knights Counties quarterly throughout a 12 month year.
Baron’s: A Baron is a Knight of the Realm that has demonstrated extreme bravery or accomplished such a noble feat that a Nobleman Vassal or The King has appointed him to govern over a county. The now Baron has gone through the Homage Ceremony to pledged his services to the Nobleman Vassal and The King. While in the service of the Nobleman Vassal, the Baron receives a County and enter’s into agreements with Serf‘s to provide goods, services and collect taxes. The Baron provides protection in the form of Knights to said Nobleman Vassal‘s and furthermore the King and his Royal Family. Baron’s govern the appointed County in the day-to-day aspects.
Knights of the Realm: A Knight pledge’s their services and their life to the Realm through a similar Homage Ceremony. They are the chivalrous protector’s of all the Nation. The Knights of the Realm rally to the Baron‘s call to protect the Nation when ordered.
Serf: These are the villagers of the County that a Baron is in charge of. These Serf‘s are to til the land and produce crops. If they are not working the land, they provide a service such as leather working, blacksmithing, or other useful crafting skills. Serf‘s give approximately 90% of their gross product to the Baron in return for protection and a homestead. They also pay taxes on any goods they sell. They must request and receive written permission to leave the County from the Baron.
Peasants: Free folks that can come or go as they please. They have no agreement with any form of official governance and often work for the Serf‘s for food and housing.
The Specific Conflict:
The heroes hear of a Baron that is a malicious tyrant and is demanding all the food and goods farmed by the Serfs in his County of Lemm. He is also rumored to have taken more of his fair share of the taxes from the people of his County. The Baron’s Fortress of Torea, is very active at night and the guards have been doubled in recent months.
The people of the County of Lemm are starving as winter is approaching and they don’t have food stores remaining for the winter or money to buy further provisions from neighboring counties. With no meaningful response and decree from the Noblemen or King, faith is lost in the Royal Family with the people of the County of Lemm.
That’s the Specific Conflict. The people have no food or money and they will surely die when winter gets here. Very simple, but The Party (group of PC’s playing the game) have a quest. Investigate what is going on and help the people.
The Party being new to the area doesn’t know that a strange and powerful war ravaged through the County of Lemm a few generations ago and it was said that a terrible curse was placed on all the farmland preventing viable crops from prospering (rumor). This makes the outlook of the people even more bleak.
The NPC’s The Party may encounter might not be aware of all the implications from the war a few generations ago. Perhaps all of men of fighting age went to fight and never returned. The women and children grew up and only heard whispers of the truth or what the Baron has told them, but demanded more goods and taxes in the years since.
The NPC’s Drama may be a particular teenage searching for his father and trying to learn about the past. He may approach The Party and even accompany them for a duration. This is a method to deliver the information you as a DM have written in an interesting way.
The NPC, we’ll call him Wilfred or Will for short, tells The Party his bitter story about how his father, George, left many years ago when he was small and about an evil power-hungry Wizard that summoned vile creatures from another plane to aid in the conflict against a neighboring nation invading the County of Lemm. Will is a young boy of 15, red hair and a large splotchy birthmark across his face. The war was won with the Wizard‘s aid, but the Wizard wasn’t heard from again. Will was told his father was a great war hero and lead many victories, but in the end he succumbed to forces more powerful than him. Will also tells you of how when men are of fighting age they are to train at the Baron’s Fortress of Torea, no man has returned from there. Will is of fighting age and resists reporting to the fortress. The Baron‘s official stance is that the men are keeping the area safe by living at the keep and patrol the outermost reaches of the land, however no one has seen these men out on patrol. Additionally, There are reports of villagers getting maimed or worse in the woods surrounding the county and something in the darkness, may be harming them (rumor). Will has also said George has appeared to him in dreams urging him to stop pursuing his past, leave the county and start a new life elsewhere.
Feel free to embellish other bits of incomplete rumors, false folklore and some true parts as well. This is from the perspective of a Will‘s or other NPC’s worldview and facts will be skewed.
The Party comes to piece the story together through narrative, roleplaying, and investigation. The Baron’s Fortress of Torea is heavily guarded and has a high wall surrounding its borders. The Party lies, sneaks, blows up a section of wall etc. Will is separated from The Party earlier in the infiltration. The Party looks for Will and discovers that the men are being transformed into something reminisce of the creatures that helped win the war initially all the years ago in the Dungeon
Level of the Torea Fortress.
The Party discover’s The Baron is planning to march on the surrounding Counties and slowly take over the nation with his strange army. The Party is captured and brought to the Baron with the aid of the evil Wizard. They are standing on one of the higher precipices of the Keep within the Torea Fortress.
As a show of cruelty, the Baron demonstrates that his army will destroy all in its path by loosing a single creature on an opponent in the fighting pit below. The opponent is facing the creature and has his back The Party. The opponent is young and looks like many of those young would be soldiers in the crowd. The crowd cheers on and young lad fights the creature to the best of his ability and rolls to the other side of the fighting pit. The Party sees the fighter wipe the dirt and mud from his face revealing the blotchy birthmark on his face. Dazed, Will looks up from the pit and recognizes his father George’s form from the recurring dreams he has had, albeit disfigured. Will feels this is his father spirit at the end of Will’s life and succumbs to the creature’s final crushing blow.
The Wizard is Will’s father, George, withered and deformed from years of using arcane magics. He recognizes his son from the birthmark on his face. George sees his shadowy form lit from the torches surrounding him in the pit and the peace in Will‘s eyes, as George realizes all too late that visiting Will in his subconscious had ultimately caused his only son’s death. In that moment Will is killed haphazardly and carelessly in front of George as the Baron demonstrates his superiority.
Overcome with grief, George summons all that is within him and controls his minions to free the party and with equal cruelty and now being devoid of mercy, he sets his creations on his master, the Baron.
After The Party is freed and the George has kills the Baron, he sets the monsters against one another and finally on himself. The party finds letter’s from The King sent to the Baron orchestrating an internal revolution to give power back to the aging Royal Family to make the Noblemen Vassal‘s fear the crown once more.
The Central Conflict here is absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Stay tuned, we will discuss further aspects of tabletop roleplaying in future posts.
As always, may the wind be at your back and the dice ever roll in your favor.