View Full Version : My first attempt at homebrewing: A Races of Stone-inspired campaign setting

2008-01-29, 03:01 AM
I've fallen in love with the Goliath race from Races of Stone, but to really involve goliath culture in an adventure it pretty much has to be in the mountains, and that line of reasoning led me to the germ of an idea for a heavily mountain-based homebrew campaign setting. I've never tried crafting a campaign setting before, but I just can't help myself. I've got to give it a try this time.

My thoughts so far have actually been focused primarily on the Dwarves. I've never been too fond of the concept of the dwarves being a wholly subterranean race. I can understand their natural affinity for mining leading them to spend extended periods of time underground, but I think they really ought to have settlements aboveground as well, at least in the immediate vicinity of mine entrances.

That in turn, led me to this thought... What if the dwarves were originally a fairly normal surface race, renowned as remarkable miners and smiths, but living primarily on the surface, only venturing underground to work? What if their move to a wholly subterranean lifestyle wasn't a product of free choice, but rather an action taken against their will?

That gives us two basic options: Something on the surface forced them underground to escape it, or something underground dragged them down to serve it. The surface predator option was pretty much out, since I wanted to preserve goliath culture as portrayed in Races of Stone. That left the other option... dwarven enslavement by an evil underground empire. That not only gives us an explanation for why the dwarves were forced underground, it also gives us a nice quest hook.

Now the question: What race is using the dwarves as its slaves? We need something which lives underground, is evil, and has enough need for dwarven mining and crafting skills to inspire enslaving nearly the entire race. I don't want Drow. Many if not most of the underground races have a distinct bent towards magical power rather than physical power, rendering them not so heavily dependent on high-quality weaponry. I was at a loss.

Now I think that I've figured it out. I think I'm going to have the power under the mountains be a sprawling subterranean empire of evil deep gnomes/svirfneblin, perhaps with a large contingent of whisper gnomes in their midst as well. The deep gnomes have the underground traits that would give them an edge in the tunnels, plus I can still give them a bit of the tech gnome flavor to explain both their complete domination over their more physically powerful dwarf slaves and their consuming need for dwarf-excavated precious metals.

To make them an even more widespread threat, I think the deep gnomes will be allied with the various surface-dwelling giants of the mountains. The giants continue to hunt down the scattered remnants of hill dwarf communities to provide their gnome allies with more fodder for the mines, and in exchange they get tiny tastes of gnome technology to aid them in their on-again, off-again war with the goliaths.

The goliaths, of course, aren't happy with the situation at all. Their dwarven trading partners are being enslaved and their giant foes are being armed with increasingly advanced weaponry. They would love to change the situation, but all their attempts so far have been unsuccessful. For generations they have been forced to accept the ever-worsening state of affairs in the mountains.

Now, however, signs of change are beginning to appear. Across all tribes the recently born goliaths' skin has carried omens of imminent change. The goliaths know something big is about to happen. What they aren't sure of is whether the change will be for good or ill.

Enter adventurers. I don't want to plan out too much from this point on for fear of railroading, but in a very basic sense gnome and giant BBEGs would be slain, dwarves would be freed (at least some), and a bit of balance would be restored. Ideally, that is. I suppose if the adventurers want to be a bunch of callous bastards and let the dwarves and goliaths suffer from the results of gnome tyranny, that's their prerogative.

Up to here, of course, we just have background material. I'm fairly confident with everything so far. Now we get to game mechanics. This part I'm really uncertain about.

First off: Hill Dwarves. Not all dwarves have been forced into slavery. Those who still live on the surface and those who only recently have been captured by giant slave hunters will not be as fully adjusted to life in the underground realms as their fully subterranean cousins. To reflect this, I want to move the core dwarf races down a level. The core "hill dwarves" will basically be my setting's deep dwarves, while my hill dwarves will be fairly unaccustomed to a sunless existence.

I want to take away my hill dwarves' darkvision and the depth-sensing function of Stonecunning. In exchange I'm thinking I could give them the goliaths' Acclimated racial ability (since they would be adapted to living on the surface of mountains rather than within them), Low-Light Vision (they still have good eyes, but they require a light source to see), and maybe the goliaths' Mountain Movement racial ability. That's the part I'm unsure of. Would Mountain Movement unbalance dwarves? I was originally going to take away Stonecunning entirely and switch it out for Mountain Movement, but I want to maintain the feel that the dwarves, no matter where they live, are skilled crafters of stone. Maybe cut the bonuses in half? +1 to Search, can Search within 5 ft of unusual stonework? This is the part I'm not certain about.

Your advice?

Another area in which I need advice is the choice of svirfneblin as BBEGs. I made the decision almost purely from a flavor standpoint with very little consideration of game mechanics. I know I want them to be threatening villains, but I don't know how to go about doing it. How would you recommend building deep gnomes into a sinister threat?

2008-01-30, 02:10 AM
I don't blame anyone for not being interested in the setting. I freely admit I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm just brainstorming at this point. I'm posting again just to keep track of my thoughts. Comments would still, of course, be appreciated.

I'm thinking that the elves and half-elves would be unavailable or at least strictly limited as a player race due to the mountain emphasis of the setting. Gnomes and giants would be unavailable due to their eeeeevil role in the campaign. On the other hand, humans, dwarves (both the standard D&D dwarves and my variant), goliaths, and (due to an uneasy alliance with fellow enemies of the gnomes) various goblinoids would be encouraged. Halflings and Half-Orcs are maybes. Feral garguns would be allowed but not openly promoted.

I'm thinking I'd like to keep this a fairly low magic campaign for several reasons. While I'm new enough to the game I'm still getting a feel for the magic system, it's obvious from even my limited experience that there are indeed balance issues with 3.5 magic. Casters are mighty powerful, and I really don't want to see an all-caster party. I'm thinking about limiting full arcane casters to the gnomes, kobolds, and elves. Dwarves wouldn't be able to be mages exactly, but NPCs (and maybe PCs, but I don't like the sound of campaigns where the PCs spend a lot of time waiting around crafting their own items rather than... you know... adventuring.) would have access to the artificer class. Half-casters like bards would still be fully available. Dwarves, gnomes, and elves would be the only sources of magic items, raising prices significantly (unless the party can free some grateful dwarf artificer slaves... hint, hint...). Divine magic would be much less limited. Favored souls and divine half-casters would be encouraged for more tribal societies, but the dwarves at least would have free access to clerics. I kind of like the dichotomy of having the surface races favor divine magic and the subterranean races favor arcane magic. The dwarves, as a race in transition, would have one foot in both schools, so to speak.

Although the gnomes are certainly the ones pulling all the strings in the ongoing conflict, I'm thinking I don't want them to actually do most of their own fighting. Far too messy and brutish for a society with their level of magic and technology. Instead the tunnels would be patrolled by a veritable army of gnome-crafted golems. Since golems aren't affected by anti-magic fields, I was thinking the tunnels leading into the central gnomish stronghold would be boobytrapped with them. The weakness of the gnomish overlords would be their arrogance, their certainty that nothing could possibly make it past their golems and into the gnomes' capital itself.

While the situation is better aboveground, I'd like to create a definite feel that nowhere in the mountains is truly safe. Various giants, ogres, trolls and the like would be plentiful, growing in number and in strength nearer to the peaks.

Most of the usual mountain and subterranean creatures would be present. The only major changes would be the removal of most (though not necessarily all) non-gnome, non-kobold sentient races from the tunnels and a somewhat strained peace with the various goblinoid races. While the major, story-significant encounters would basically be with giants, gnomes, golems, and any evil humans who might choose to associate with the above, random encounters should still be fairly varied.

It might not be well planned from a mechanics standpoint, but I'm fond of the sound of the campaign as it stands now from a roleplaying perspective. My pro-goliath/anti-elf biases are perhaps a little too evident... I'm somewhat concerned that with the wrong style of DMing this sort of scenario could lead to serious railroading, but I think it should be okay as long as it stops at the establishment of a general goal ("Free the dwarves from gnomish oppression) and leaves the players free to figure out just exactly how they're going to go about accomplishing that.

I think from the look of things that the campaign would allow a fairly even progression upwards in level. A long campaign could start at a fairly low level aboveground near a well established goliath, hill dwarf, or human barbarian community, with the adventurers gradually traveling farther and farther from the village and into the true wilderness as their levels increase. Gradually they would begin to venture underground, starting with lightning fast get-in-get-out raids on shallow targets. Every time they would travel belowground they would go deeper than the time before, ultimately culminating in an attack on the well-defended gnomish capital itself. The latter stages of the campaign would probably really be battles between full-scale armies, with the adventurers acting as a sort of special forces unit in support of the combined goliath/dwarf/barbarian/goblinoid grand army. This would, of course, not be the only possible course of action... that's entirely up to the players... but this would be what I would view as the ideal progression.

I think the concept ain't half bad, but I don't really have enough experience to know what pitfalls to watch out for when doing this sort of planning. That's where I was hoping you folks could tell me whether it's just a crazy notion or if it's actually a workable idea, and what needs to be done to further refine it.

I'm all ears...