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  • Writer's pictureJ. Griffin Hughes

Welcome to Astratherea (1 of 2)

I would like to share with you the homebrewed setting for my new D&D campaign, the first I’ve run in over 25 years, apart from a couple of one-shots. In that time, I’ve had a lot to ponder about what I would like to get out of a fantasy setting, something that would satisfy my grown-up sensibilities while still scratching the itch I felt when I first pored over the well-worn AD&D rulebooks my best friend received from his college-aged older brothers almost 40 years ago.

I invite you into a world inspired by drawing Legend of Zelda-style dungeon maps while watching Conan the Destroyer over and over again, seeing Willow Ulfgood fooling Queen Bavmorda with his “disappearing pig trick.,” and swinging a wooden Ren faire sword in my backyard after writing ORCREST along its “blade” in blocky runes.

Actual Dungeons, Actual Dragons

It has been a while since I have run the sort of dungeon-delving scenarios where thieves check for traps before opening a chest.

Probably it’s been even longer since I ran a combat scenario where players squared off against a dragon, and one of the best features of 5e D&D has been the introduction of Legendary Actions, Legendary Resistances, and Lair Actions, which make that party v. monster fights of that scale epic.

In addition to these features, I want to bring back a whole host of D&D classics -- mimics, mind-flayers, displacer beasts, gelatinous cubes, hook horrors, and so on, and so on…

Able to Encompass Varied Cultures

I want to make a big world for big stories.

As rich as the lore of any fantasy world may be, they are all just so small when compared with our own, actual world and the sweep of its history. So, I will be consciously drawing from diverse sources, not just for the sake of representation but to make space for the sort of massive cross-cultural dynamics that built our own -- the great ancient trade routes, the migration of ideas from one nation to the next, the invasion of conquering armies, and plagues spreading across the sea.

To give it an Old World feel, this setting will have allegories for not just Northern Europe but also Mediterranean cultures, Northern and Southern Africa, Eastern and Southern Asia, and the Arabic cultures of the Middle East.

And in all these lands will be both human and non-human peoples. So, it won’t be just as simple as saying, for instance, “The elves represent the French,” but rather that there might be humans based on the French and also French elves, who would naturally differ from their Chinese or Egyptian counterparts.

Rich with History

To have ancient catacombs and forgotten treasures, there have to be successive ages that build upon each other. This also gives greater relevance to the longevity of beings like elves and dragons, who count their ages in centuries. This should afford them the privilege of having been there when one ruler or another rose to power, maybe even remembering a time when the people of a particular land knew themselves by a different name.

Just as there will be real-world references for the different regions of this world, history will follow the same general course as ours. For ease of reference, the years will be numbered similarly as well. However, while our Common Era begins at zero with the year Roman Catholics determined to be the birth of Christ, the numbering of years for this world will begin with the formation of an analog of the Roman Empire.

So, within a few decades or so, events of this world will mirror ours. For example, a figure like Attila the Hun might exist around the year 400, and a figure like Socrates might exist around -400.

Because this is ultimately a game where strengths need to be knowable and balanceable for players to make strategic choices, there will not be an evolution of martial technology over time. For instance, in every era and region, armor that has the defensive value of plate mail will exist, available at the price indicated by the Player’s Handbook.

For flavor, weapons and armor may be reskinned to fit certain cultural norms. Similarly, while fantasy tropes suggest that wizards are constantly innovating new magical theories, the spells available to players will remain unchanged.

Instead, what will change with the passing of centuries will be the rise and fall of nations, the appearance of different philosophical movements, and the movements of people.

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