Forging the Crown: Thematic Restrictions
Over the past forty years, roleplaying character classes blossomed into a plethora of possibilities. The original Dungeons and Dragons box set, the fabled White Box, featured the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User. Greyhawk soon followed and introduced the Thief and Paladin. The latter, burdened with rigorous criteria until its restructuring in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, proved a much more powerful class. Further supplements and editions heralded the Bard, Druid, Monk, Ranger, and the shadowy Assassin.
The latest iteration of the genre continues the formula of its predecessor: one class should no longer overpower another; balance is the mainstay; and unshackles players from character class restrictions. It is an element of game design to allow incredible versatility and appeal to a wider audience.
What does this mean for the future of the Feudal Lords Campaign Setting? More importantly, what does this mean for you, the Game Master?
Let me take a few steps back before attempting to answer. As a Game Master, I rarely restricted races or character classes in past campaigns. It empowers players with an opportunity to expand the campaign world with their ideas, to offer new insights, and revel in the shared experience of world building. An exiled paladin-prince from a wicked kingdom formed Darcadia; a halfling rogue in search for her imprisoned father gave rise to the hills below Border Keep; and a swordsman, with strange psionic powers, forged the unmapped baronies of Caldera.
While the Feudal Lords Setting benefited as the world grew from a host of hundreds of characters during its formation, it too lost its unique appeal. It became another generic world with a few thematic elements to set it apart from other campaigns.
In its very early stage, humans were the only playable race. Such a restriction, I discovered, reintroduced the mystery of elves and dwarves to the players. Exploring ancient ruins or finding a relic of these mythic creatures only seemed to enhance and motivate the roleplaying experience. When players soon discovered that elves were watchers of men and possessed the gift to masquerade as a human, an exhilarating atmosphere of suspense thrived. Why did they abandon their wooded realm? Why wander the lands to observe men? How many of the ancient race remains? Was Old Magda, the soothsayer, an elf?
A further paradigm of a unique campaign world is one I am very intimate with and a devout (dare I say, cult) follower: Dark Sun. Many thematic restrictions, such as no gods or paladins, set the tone for the setting and endeared many players to its harsh environments. In the novels, Agis - a hero beholden to the ideals of Lawful Good - eventually succumbs to an evil foe and disappears deep beneath the Sea of Silt. His death stresses the underlying theme that, as in the past, evil still dominates the desert world of Athas.
While game design requires an element of balance, thematic restrictions defines, rather than confines, the campaign world; it forges an unparalleled atmosphere. What if anyone could become a Jedi Knight within the Star Wars Universe? On the other hand, wield a dragonlance? Be one of the Significant Seven in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica? Arise to rule as a sorcerer-king?
Though each of the previous illustrations might provide a thrilling story, repetition mires those elements in mediocrity. Interest wanes. Hunger becomes satiated.
As a Game Master, while players drive the story, you set the stage. You provide direction. However, a roleplaying game is not just a social connection between a Game Master and players. It is a social contract that further includes game designers to ensure balance and game developers whom shape the imaginative environs to inspire.
When the next iteration of the Feudal Lords Campaign Setting releases, you should discover many more thematic restrictions than in past editions. We hope that this does not limit, but rather shape the campaign setting to inspire new stories. With that said, we recognize that the world does not really come to life until the Game Master and players include their personal touch. Therefore, the thematic restrictions are guidelines. We want to present the campaign setting as we envision it, though once in your hands, it then becomes your world.
Therefore, what can we share about the newest thematic changes to the setting? While future articles will expand upon those elements in detail, we can make a few announcements. First, we intend the Feudal Lords Campaign Setting to convert from one roleplaying system to another with relative ease. The core campaign guide should reflect this ideal while supplemental guides, dedicated to a specific system, will further define the setting.
Second, we will leave you with this little tidbit: mages are desperate and must take greater risks to gather arcane power. The Quick Start Guide for the upcoming Aspyrias Adventuring System will feature the Horns of Ashland introductory adventure and within it, reveals a method sorcerers employ to empower spells.