Developing a New Campaign Setting - Welcome to Kraken Isle

I've spent a bit of free time working out the details for my campaign setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics. It actually took a bit of debate going back and forth between that and Adventurer Conqueror King System. In the end I decided on DCC, largely due to its somewhat lighter workload for the Judge, though I definitely want to run or play a game of ACKS at some point. I've posted some previous musings on this setting and this may contradict some of them - as the game gets closer to its first session the setting is becoming more concrete as some ideas are modified or discarded.

As I mentioned previously I'm inspired by what I consider to be TSR's old "mini-sandbox" adventures. I don't foresee running a "true" sandbox game with everything wide open but I do want to incorporate a large element of player control. This is what I observed TSR doing in several of their early adventures. While the Lendore Isle series of adventures remains a big inspiration, I am going with a time period of Late Antiquity instead of the Middle Ages as the inspiration for the feel of the cultures. To me that seems more true to the "Appendix N"-ishness of DCC. It seems a setting that has barbarian tribes, decadent cities, slave markets, battles between city-states, and ancient ruins.

I've been bouncing back and forth between starting the game on an island chain off the coast of a main continent or one in a sea resembling the Aegean branch of the Mediterranean. Regardless, I've mapped out the islands themselves:
You can click on it for a bigger version of the map. I'd originally named it Chronos Isle, named after the Greek god of time (and an homage to Lendore Isle from the World of Greyhawk, named after the Suel god of time). However, one of my players got a look at the island and immediately called it "Cthulhu Island". I wasn't about to rename it that but it did get me thinking about its squid-like look which led me to renaming it "Kraken Isle". The main port is on the bay at the northwest quadrant of the island - Rel Kelenan. The naming style is inspired by the World of Greyhawk's Great Kingdom, which often prefixed Aerdy city names with "Rel". This is definitely a city, albeit a smaller sized one, possibly akin to early medieval London in size. I decided I wanted it to have a little bit of character so it is built over a lagoon and therefore resembles Venice in character, with traffic going along its canals and providing protection from ay marauders and invading armies. There are several villages and towns in its vicinity to support the city with crops and there is a another grouping of settlements on the island around Turin's Pasture, on the other side of the Central Highlands. There isn't as much trade as there might be between the two groupings given the marauding tribes that dwell in the woods and mountains of Kraken Isle.

Lets talk about the marauding tribes. If you're like me, when you read that you probably pictured orcs and goblins. (Or you came here to learn about illegal drugs of the 1970s, one of the oddest search terms to ever reach this blog...) James Raggi's The Random Esoteric Creature Generator makes a most excellent suggestion regarding humanoids (and demi-himans):

Eliminate them from the game. If it has two legs and two hands, remove it and replace it with humans. The important thing is – don’t change the cultures or characterizations involved! The ones that were “dwarves” are now mining clans, short and stocky, the “elves” are forest-dwelling hunters, “orcs” are remorseless and savage barbarians, etc. Perhaps they should even keep their special racial abilities (now labeled “cultural abilities”), although it might be difficult to justify seeing in the dark. But really, is there any reason to use an ogre when a human warrior with a few levels on him will do? Is that adding to the danger, the suspense, or the mystery of the game? Details don’t even have to be changed in doing away with non-humans. Normal unclassed humans have roughly the same stats as goblins in most of the individual systems, so there would be no real balance issues in doing this. Don’t make the converted humanoids any more cultured, either.

Raggi indicates going this far out may not be for everyone:

Such issues may not be of interest to every referee or player group. And perhaps the classic fellowship of characters as presented by Tolkien, his peers, and followers is the basic lure for fantasy gaming in the first place. Fine. Use the races, but go back to the source if you do so – Tolkien brought his races together only in the direst of circumstances. 
Assuming a humanocentric focus to the game, every other demihuman and humanoid should be very rare. This does not mean limiting your players’ character choices! Let them be as they wish, but a referee should always be sure that the players are aware that their non-human characters are unusual and never trusted by more superstitious members of the population.. The average human never came into contact with elves or dwarves.

Raggi also goes on to discuss how humanoids such as orcs and goblins appeared only rarely in Tolkien and in special areas. This is a model I want to use. I want to include the classic races (species really, but the term race is perhaps unavoidable in gaming) but I want them to be special. Where are they on my island? I don't know. If there are no PCs of the given race they might not even be there. As far as orcs and goblins go, I'm going to hold off using them at the start. That doesn't mean I won't be using the stats for such races as he suggests if I need quick stats for brigands or barbarians. But I want to save orcs and goblins to be the servant of some wicked sorcerer who may have been responsible for their creation in the first place.

So back to the island. It is nominally part of the empire on the mainland but the empire isn't likely in the best of shape and is far-off. It isn't going to be sending troops to help with marauding humanoids in all likelihood. The ruler of Rel Kelenan is in charge of the archipelago but his control is limited to the settlements - the regions between are wild. And his control of the settlements isn't incredibly powerful either, given his lack of ability to clear the island of threats. But it is a good place for adventurers, with a volcano-destroyed city in the center of the island and ruins to the north reclaimed by wetlands.

But this scope is still a little on the large size. Which brings us the island known as "Little Brother" to the south of the island. I sized it so I would be able to map it in its entirety at a small scale. The map shown here is at a scale of one mile per hex.

The hex grid is a little tough to make out unless you click on the image to see it at actual size. Little Brother is an island that is lightly settled along its southern side with a main town and several villages close to it. To the north I created contours to show a hilly forested region that surrounds a swamp. Some ruins in both the swamp and the hilly region with bad reputations. To me this felt like a starting point for low level adventurers.

However, I'm a constant tinkerer and to be honest I was less than thrilled with the way the map came out. I liked how Kraken Island came out (using Campaign Cartographer) but the map I generated for Little Brother didn't quite feel right. So I went ahead and traced an image of it into Hexographer and tried making a pure hex map, making use of contour lines to show different degrees of hilly and mountainous terrain. I liked this result a bit better:

Again it needs to be expanded to see it in detail. Interestingly, when I tried to generate the map in Hexographer initially I had little luck - my creativity wasn't sparked. However when I started with a Campaign Cartographer 3 drawing as my starting point I found I was better equipped to make the map I wanted to of Little Brother.

My plan is for the characters to begin on Little Brother and those who survive will make it to 1st level. They will in short order go adventuring on the larger Kraken Isle, allowing me to exchange a tiny sandbox for a medium sized one.

One final note. My DCC campaign is currently scheduled to start on Monday June 25 at 7 PM Eastern Time using Google Hangouts. We probably have room for another player if anyone is interested - give me a holler.

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