D&D 5E Creating a New Campaign World Based on Hope & Optimism

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I haven't had a lot of opportunities to play D&D right now (newborn, Omicron, etc.), so I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about creating D&D settings. I've started to imagine a campaign setting that encourages characters to build a better world, and I'm going to use this thread to slowly brainstorm and create it. Maybe it's just the news, climate change, or having a newborn baby around, but I have been thinking a lot about making sure I've done my own part to make the world a little bit better than it was when I came into it. I think that would be a neat theme for a campaign too!

For now, I'm going to call this campaign setting Amnesis.

Here are some campaign themes:
  • The main conflict of this campaign is corruption vs optimism. The heroes will be on the side of optimism, hope, and unity. The enemies will be forces of corruption, pollution, and dehumanization.
  • The campaign setting will be medieval Americana. That is, the trappings of Americana in a medieval-technology setting. Think farms & forts instead of villages & castles. Bison and turkeys, pumpkins and corn, land barons and frontier towns. This will not be set in America, or even an analogous America, but it will draw from the visual and thematic vocabulary of Americana applied onto a medieval canvas.
  • The setting will be made up of race-agnostic cultures. Instead of having the elf forest, the dwarf mountains, the halfling farms, there will be distinct cultural areas in which live members of any race or lineage. Communities will still struggle with xenophobia and tribalism, but their cultural identities will not be based on race.
  • Adventurers will be tasked with making the world a better place. Gold found in dungeons will be spent on improving communities. As the world improves, characters will gain more access to magic items, allies, magical gifts, property, etc.
  • The campaign setting is still very much in the D&D Spirit. There are orcs and trolls and dragons, dungeons and haunted ruins, magic swords and mimics.
As you can see, I just have the foundations of ideas, but nothing written in stone yet.

One of the most important things in this campaign is the main conflict. Everything is going to be based around corruption vs optimism. What's that mean for a D&D setting? I'm going to brainstorm what those two words actually look like, manifested in a fantasy world:

Corruption
Polluted farmlands
Polluted nature
Bribed and blackmailed leaders
Zealotry
Cults preying on the impoverished
Demonic temptations
Plague
Undead transformations
Spies
Doppelgangers and other shapeshifters

Optimism
Building communities
Agriculture
Harmony with nature
Light
Throwing off the yoke
Unity
Safe to travel
Bridging fractured communities
Restoring traditions
Celebrations

When I build a campaign world, I like to think about what is the world's present, its past, and its (hoped-for) future...

In this campaign setting, the past and present are corruption, and the future is optimism.

I could see in the past corruption being the product of war and strife. As the war ends, it leaves room for optimism to grow, if the old powers don't hold it back.

I’ll add more posts here as I figure out what this campaign setting looks like, what adventurers do, who the enemies are, and house rules I’d use to support the theme.

I'd love to read your ideas, too! How would you build or support a campaign setting in which characters are beacons of hope in a world of corruption, rot, and darkness?
 

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Yora

Legend
With conflicts like these, it's almost always good to look at what scarcities are pushing people to be ruthless and selfish and exploit the world for their gain. Conflict usually needs a source of pressure that creates tension and makes people open to methods they normally wouldn't resort to.
If the overall idea is that things are improving, then the PCs work could be something that contributes to reducing the pressure. Which in turn upsets the people who have been used to use the tension for personal gain and don't want to lose their previliged position.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
With conflicts like these, it's almost always good to look at what scarcities are pushing people to be ruthless and selfish and exploit the world for their gain. Conflict usually needs a source of pressure that creates tension and makes people open to methods they normally wouldn't resort to.
If the overall idea is that things are improving, then the PCs work could be something that contributes to reducing the pressure. Which in turn upsets the people who have been used to use the tension for personal gain and don't want to lose their previliged position.
That's a great point! Scarcities are really important, and can be solved in interesting ways in a D&D setting.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Campaign World

As I build the physical setting itself, I return over and over again to the central conflict of optimism vs corruption.

What does corruption look like in a D&D setting?

I can see the governing bodies of towns and cities literally corrupted by fiends and aberrations, trading their souls (and the fate of their communities) for power.

I can see once bountiful forests or fields corrupted by undead blight, mischievous fey, or strange mutations.

I can see once powerful cities reduced to ruin as greed and tribalism sundered the community.

Returning to the idea that this is Medieval Americana… A lot of early American storytelling involves small communities tied financially and culturally to a large city. You have frontier towns, farming communities, and other small outposts, all with roads or rivers leading to New York or Chicago or San Francisco.

I’m going to center this campaign setting around a single fallen city.

Vaulten Hall was once known as the City of Memories. Its fabled towers held libraries, museums, temples, and schools in which nobility and scholars studied under mentors both mortal and magical. Vaulten Hall was a city with a strict hierarchy: only royal families and wealthy landowners could attend the schools and access the great libraries. Over time, a fierce rivalry built up between the three Great Towers of Vaulten Hall: the Tower of the Mind, the Tower of the Heart, and the Tower of the Soul.

Meanwhile, the small towns and villages outside of Vaulten Hall were full of hard-working people producing the ore, lumber, and food needed by the merchants, scholars, and nobility of the city. These frontier villages were often harassed by fey, beasts, and monstrosities of the wild. Mercenary adventurers were expensive, and some landowners abandoned their tenant farmers to the forces of the wild rather than spend their precious gold.

Then came the war. Armies of undead, fiends, and aberrations appeared from across the sea, over the mountains, and out of the minds of powerful mortals. The wealthy city of Vaulten Hall fought back, often with soldiers drafted from frontier villages. But after decades of war, the Great Towers were conquered, and Vaulten Hall fell to the outside forces.

Now the city of Vaulten Hall is a ruin, patrolled by fiends, undead, and aberrations. The three Great Towers are portals to realms beyond this world.

The Tower of the Mind has become a portal to the Far Realms.

The Tower of the Heart is portal to the Nine Hells.

The Tower of the Soul is a portal to the Shadowfell.

The frontier villages outside of the city face their own strife. Decades of war drained their resources, ruined their fields, and killed off a generation of men and women. The new masters of Vaulten Hall are not interested in governance. There is no standing army to defend the villages, and there is no law to keep the peace. In this power vacuum have risen warlords, cultists, and zealots, powerful villains empowered by the fiends, undead, or aberrations. Communities once subsisting on mining, farming, or lumber are now pillaged for slaves, gold, and souls.

At the same time, the very land has been corrupted by the presence of these outsider forces. The forests teem with mutated beasts and plants. Farms produce poisoned crops, and the waters are fouled with the slime of strange tentacled creatures.

Into this world step the adventurers.

Adventurers carry within them the seeds of hope. Through their might, the corruption can be fought back, and a new world grown.

This is the campaign world of Amnesis.
 

cbwjm

Legend
This sounds a bit like mutant year 0, the part heads out into an apocalyptic wasteland to scavenge supplies while at the same time upgrading their home base, the ark. It's a cool concept and I quite like your setting idea.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Love it, very Legend of Zelda in spirit. Good job.

On thing (stolen from Ravnica) that I would love is a ''church'' where you can borrow money in exchange for a debt to be worked in your afterlife, like the Orzov in Mt:G. So if you die while indebted, you serve the rest of your debt as a spirit-servant.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
This sounds a bit like mutant year 0, the part heads out into an apocalyptic wasteland to scavenge supplies while at the same time upgrading their home base, the ark. It's a cool concept and I quite like your setting idea.
Thanks!

I think town building is going to be an important part of this setting.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Love it, very Legend of Zelda in spirit. Good job.

On thing (stolen from Ravnica) that I would love is a ''church'' where you can borrow money in exchange for a debt to be worked in your afterlife, like the Orzov in Mt:G. So if you die while indebted, you serve the rest of your debt as a spirit-servant.
Oh I love that idea!

I was thinking of aligning the three main evils with different kinds of corruption:

Fiends: industrialization
Aberrations: pollution
Undead: greed

That "pay for a better afterlife" scheme would work really well with the greedy undead theme.
 

I think a good source of inspiration would be Star Trek (especially Next Generation but also classic series). That is definitely a show that seemed grounded in optimism (and the plot from Star Trek IV could easily be ported into a fantasy world I think and connect to the themes you are describing).
 


Another adventure type that might work is something like Journey to the West, where they need to convince the monsters to join them on an important quest and reform the monsters on the journey (like Tang Monk reforming Monkey and company). Lots of very gameable material in there too.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Depending on the work you want to put on this, you may want to come up with a Seed for each kin,
like Human may awakened a Seed of Hope, Elves have a Seed of Wisdom, Dwarves may have a Seed of Cunning etc,

So bringing new life to a bright future requires to awaken the more Seed of EACH type, and some types of Seeds may be found in quite unexpected kin (like Orcs and Dragons having Seeds of X, meaning that the future may require to awaken the Seeds from people you see now as enemies).
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Depending on the work you want to put on this, you may want to come up with a Seed for each kin,
like Human may awakened a Seed of Hope, Elves have a Seed of Wisdom, Dwarves may have a Seed of Cunning etc,

So bringing new life to a bright future requires to awaken the more Seed of EACH type, and some types of Seeds may be found in quite unexpected kin (like Orcs and Dragons having Seeds of X, meaning that the future may require to awaken the Seeds from people you see now as enemies).
I was just starting to think about factions, and these would be great ways to go about them.

Each faction could have a Seed of Hope and a Threat of Corruption. Depending on how adventures go, the Hope or Corruption could become supreme.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I like the idea of using mechanics in order to unite all the characters under the theme of Optimism. At 1st Level, all the characters would choose a Gift of Hope representing what inspired them to actually fight against the corrupting forces of Amnesis.


Gifts of Hope

Adventurers in the world of Amnesis are not just motivated by treasure and violence (though these might still be part of your character’s drive). Instead, they are united in an optimism for the future. Adventurers of Amnesis delve dungeons, fight monsters, and retrieve treasures in order to improve their world.

This is an unusual desire in the world of Amnesis. After decades of war and decades of corruption, the average citizen is hopeless, simply trying to get through the day without becoming enslaved by fiends, consumed by aberrations, or cursed by undead. Many people fear they live at the end of the world, and that soon all mortal life will be extinct. Factionalism and xenophobia prevent folk from joining together, and oppression and violence quell any dreams of a better future.

Your character is different. They experienced something in the past that gave them belief that the world can be changed for the better. This Gift of Hope inspires your character to be an adventurer, and also grants them a free feat at 1st Level.

Think about your character’s backstory. What gave them the Gift of Hope?

My Community
You were raised in a community that nurtured a sense of optimism in your character. Maybe you were raised in an isolated mountain village, far from the threats of the Empires of the Eclipse. Or perhaps your family, though living under the whip of cruel masters, read every night from ancient texts about a better world. Regardless, you use your upbringing to guide your actions and give hope to others.

Gift of Hope
Choose one of the following feats, representing your character’s upbringing in a community of hope:
  • Healer
  • Prodigy

My Religious Convictions
Your faith in the Forgotten Gods grants you a sense of hope in a world of corruption and despair. Perhaps you were educated in a secretive monastery worshiping the nameless gods of ancient eras. Or you might have received a divine vision portending the dawning of a new, hopeful world. Your religious convictions grant you the hope needed to battle the corruption of Amnesis.

Gift of Hope
Choose one of the following feats, representing your character’s religious convictions:
  • Ritual Caster
  • Lucky

My Resolve
You yourself are proof of hope, and you inspire yourself and others through your actions and survival. You might have a received a prophecy from a mystic, foretelling your part in fighting the corruptions of Amnesis. Or perhaps you have simply proven yourself time and time again, in battle or leadership or pure resilience, to be a beacon of hope. Your own resolve is all the evidence you need that hope exists in the world.

Gift of Hope
Choose one of the following feats, representing your character’s resolve:
  • Inspiring Leader
  • Tough

My Liberation
You experienced an incredible moment of liberation that placed within you a hope for the future. You may have been a slave to fiends or a corrupt warlord, and helped lead a rebellion that lead to your freedom. Or a fellow adventurer might have freed your mind or soul from the possession of an undead spirit or aberration. This life-changing event granted you the desire to liberate the world from corruption.

Gift of Hope
Choose one of the following feats, representing your character’s growth after liberation:
  • Dungeon Delver
  • Alert
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Campaign World

As I build the physical setting itself, I return over and over again to the central conflict of optimism vs corruption.

What does corruption look like in a D&D setting?

I can see the governing bodies of towns and cities literally corrupted by fiends and aberrations, trading their souls (and the fate of their communities) for power.

I can see once bountiful forests or fields corrupted by undead blight, mischievous fey, or strange mutations.

I can see once powerful cities reduced to ruin as greed and tribalism sundered the community.

Returning to the idea that this is Medieval Americana… A lot of early American storytelling involves small communities tied financially and culturally to a large city. You have frontier towns, farming communities, and other small outposts, all with roads or rivers leading to New York or Chicago or San Francisco.

I’m going to center this campaign setting around a single fallen city.

Vaulten Hall was once known as the City of Memories. Its fabled towers held libraries, museums, temples, and schools in which nobility and scholars studied under mentors both mortal and magical. Vaulten Hall was a city with a strict hierarchy: only royal families and wealthy landowners could attend the schools and access the great libraries. Over time, a fierce rivalry built up between the three Great Towers of Vaulten Hall: the Tower of the Mind, the Tower of the Heart, and the Tower of the Soul.

Meanwhile, the small towns and villages outside of Vaulten Hall were full of hard-working people producing the ore, lumber, and food needed by the merchants, scholars, and nobility of the city. These frontier villages were often harassed by fey, beasts, and monstrosities of the wild. Mercenary adventurers were expensive, and some landowners abandoned their tenant farmers to the forces of the wild rather than spend their precious gold.

Then came the war. Armies of undead, fiends, and aberrations appeared from across the sea, over the mountains, and out of the minds of powerful mortals. The wealthy city of Vaulten Hall fought back, often with soldiers drafted from frontier villages. But after decades of war, the Great Towers were conquered, and Vaulten Hall fell to the outside forces.

Now the city of Vaulten Hall is a ruin, patrolled by fiends, undead, and aberrations. The three Great Towers are portals to realms beyond this world.

The Tower of the Mind has become a portal to the Far Realms.

The Tower of the Heart is portal to the Nine Hells.

The Tower of the Soul is a portal to the Shadowfell.

The frontier villages outside of the city face their own strife. Decades of war drained their resources, ruined their fields, and killed off a generation of men and women. The new masters of Vaulten Hall are not interested in governance. There is no standing army to defend the villages, and there is no law to keep the peace. In this power vacuum have risen warlords, cultists, and zealots, powerful villains empowered by the fiends, undead, or aberrations. Communities once subsisting on mining, farming, or lumber are now pillaged for slaves, gold, and souls.

At the same time, the very land has been corrupted by the presence of these outsider forces. The forests teem with mutated beasts and plants. Farms produce poisoned crops, and the waters are fouled with the slime of strange tentacled creatures.

Into this world step the adventurers.

Adventurers carry within them the seeds of hope. Through their might, the corruption can be fought back, and a new world grown.

This is the campaign world of Amnesis.

hmmm, I'm not sure that this kind of post apocalyptic setting is entirely conducive to in game Optimism, and while it is a great set up for a corrupted world I would really like to see how the Optimism aspect is reflected in your world building.

For me the Americana setting works when its about pilgrims setting out to settle in a 'new land' full of resources and opportunity OR the Optimism part is about Pilgrim setting out to reach the Promised "City on the Hill"

unfortunately in your setting Vaulten Hall has fallen, and the villages need to struggle on their own - so does the City on the Hill now needs to be reclaimed or are PCs aiming to build a new one?
I suppose there is Costners "Postman' film - inspiring Hope in reclaiming the City and restoring a unified nation (or Mad Max Thunderdome)

EDIT: Okay the Gifts of Hope do a lot of heavy lifting for this :)
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
How would you build or support a campaign setting in which characters are beacons of hope in a world of corruption, rot, and darkness?
It feels a bit like our current Kingmaker campaign where the PCs started their own barony.

The conflict is building up something good and fending off that which would see it torn down or corrupted. Makes it more personal when you're defending a town you built from the ground up and a land you liberated with your blood, sweat, and tears.
 

aco175

Legend
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36 years today, still optimistic.
 


dragoner

solisrpg.com
People have called my science fiction Solis People of the Sun setting optimistic, which I suppose it is, I mean I kind of just look at it being non-dystopian, and that is sort of as a reaction where I find it more mature, maybe? Grimdark just feels angsty. So yes, I think an optimistic campaign setting is great.
 


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