Here Be Giants: Help With a New Campaign World

rozgarth

Explorer
Hello!

I'm a college student who hasn't gotten to play much DnD since high school, but after reading through the new 5th edition materials, I've gotten the urge to start worldbuilding and prepping a new campaign to introduce some of my college friends to the game. I've got some broad ideas, but I'm struggling a little with where to go next.

The campaign world (or at least the region the campaign will take place) was once dominated by a powerful race of magic-wielding giants called the Jottun. Their lands were vast, and they performed great magical and architectural feats. They were also incredibly proud and enslaved smaller races (most famously the dwarves) to work for them. The largest opposition to their reign was the Voraki Empire, a decadent human political unit that delved deep into alchemy and sorcery (based on ancient Middle East and Eberron). Eventually, the Voraki opened a portal to the Abyss/Nine Hells (not sure which--I might fold them together) in the hopes of controlling the fiends to beat back the Jottun, but the fiends predictably turned on the Voraki attacking both them and the Jottun. The Jottun used the last of their magical might to banish the fiends back to their home plane, but their expenditure also resulted in a cataclysm that destroyed the Voraki capital (the site of the portal) and the surrounding region for miles.

The cataclysm had other unintended effects. It brought about the ordning, splintering the once united race of Jottun into the more familiar giant subspecies based on their personalities and environments. It also brought divine magic into being; while still not understood, it's most commonly believed that the sheer magical power unleashed in banishing the fiends also transformed common, powerfully held ideals like Life and Death into actual divine beings, giving rise to gods and modern priesthoods. While the giants had their own religion (which holds that everything in the world is shrinking/diminishing and that eventually it will simply shrink out of existence), evidence of their gods' existence was hard to prove. Giants still believe in their Old Gods and some races also have their own beliefs. Elves, for example, engage in spirit/ancestor worship because after living so long, they find it hard to believe that death is actually final. Most modern people (chiefly humans) follow the new pantheon.

That's the main background. I've spent a lot of time brainstorming places mainly and thinking about how the different giant subspecies fit into the campaign:

Storm: Live in an underwater Atlantis with high tech/magic. They are the closest to the old Jottun empire. Their oldest enemy is the Kraken, though they also frequently clash with sahuagin who ritually worship the Kraken and periodically try to summon it.

Cloud: Live in a cloud castle in the sky filled with delights and gardens, an echo of older eras. Accessible by flying or giant beanstalk :) Perhaps patrolled by aarakocra. I've also toyed with the idea of it being a dream-like realm where nothing is as it seems, filled with illusion (or perhaps a nightmarish flawed paradise).

Fire: Live in a moutainside above hot springs. Use fire elementals for their forges and craft mighty arms and armor. Slaves do the farming and dangerous mine work. They use hobgoblins as taskmasters and enforcers (decked out in fantastic fire giant equipment, of course).

Frost: Live in a timeless ice palace chiseled out of a glacier. Time actually moves more slowly here, or even freezes completely--the jarl is old beyond measure and does not venture forth any more. Features wrestling, drinking, boisterous activity. Area inhabited by winter wolves, mammoths. Draugr (zombies) are common, their features preserved by the cold. I'm thinking that necromancy is big among the frosts along with the chronomancy elements above.

Stone: Live near an underground mountain cavern that extends endlessly downward. The greatest of them engage in religious pilgrimage of introspection into the depths, never to be seen again. Where they end up is a mystery and the subject of many of their legends. Communicate by stone tapping (like Morse code, but more sophisticated) and dwell among some of the finest stonework in the world.

Hill: Generic brutes as of right now. Usually solitary, sometimes conscripted by other giants (especially fire) and orc bands as a source of muscle.

Sprinkle ogres, ettins, trolls, and athachs to taste.

Old ruins from the Voraki or Giant empires are inhabited by orcs. Fiend-worshipping gnolls (hated by almost all) dwell near old stone circles and menhirs erected by the giants in the past era. The underground chambers beneath them house unknown horrors. The Barrowlands are a hilly region constantly covered in fog where the Voraki used to bury their dead in the hopes that they would eventually learn how to resurrect them; ironically, Raise Dead is now available because of the gods (though rare and expensive), though the Voraki never got the chance to bring back their buried loved ones. This region is bleak and desolate with scattered villages and bands of restless undead. A giant aqueduct built by the giants snakes its way from the lake near the portal/old Voraki capital to the fire giant area, but it's in disrepair due to age; now, different monsters dwell in its shadows and on its heights (harpies, Lovecraft?, bandits). The Great Road, once so grand, is likewise neglected with old graffiti and weeds growing through it.

I'm thinking that the campaign will begin when a treasure-hunting/ancient-relic-seeking organization uncovers an old giant artifact, the Manacles of X (placeholder). Legend tells that the Jottun used the Manacles to bind Moradin himself before he led the dwarves out of bondage and then reached apotheosis during the Cataclysm. A group of cultists murders/plots against the relic group to claim the Manacles in the hopes of summoning forth fiends once more, only this time with the power to bind them for good with the Manacles. They believe that fiends should be used as a tool to bring back the old human empire in all its glory, but their methods are dangerous. This is around where the PCs will come in I think.

I know that was long, and I appreciate your time reading it. I'm first looking for any comments on the campaign background itself, but also what to do next. I have some ideas for elves and a fey realm that I didn't include for brevity, but I'm not sure where to start the PCs out. I'd like a suitably cool starting town/area to go with the rest of the region (maybe an old giant ruin repurposed as a city?). I'm also looking for ideas on factions/organizations and NPCs to draw on. I have the barebones of (maybe?) an initial adventure with the Manacles being uncovered, but not much else. I also wonder how to make the giant theme relevant at low levels without actually pitting the PCs against giants in combat (maybe ettins, ogres, etc?). Lastly, I was wondering if anyone knows of anywhere I might get some ideas for runecasting--the dwarves in my world practice it instead of normal magic.

A big thank you for comments or help!
 

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The M'hael

First Post
I'd love to help!
Do you want a sort of Athas-Dark_Sun-Elemental theme, or more of a Norse_style-giants-and-trolls theme? Also, do you want a darker or lighter mood to your game?
Also maybe the starter city that is a Jottun ruin could be roughly based off of Rhuidean, the Aiel capitol city from the wheel of time series. Don't know if you've ever read it. It is a huge city made in a past era that is now mostly ruins and sparsely inhabited. The Aiel are a nomad people that live in a desert waste.
Also, you can use the goliath race from the EE players companion as a giant/half giant race. If you are going with a more norse feel then you could have all sorts of trolls, maybe even reskin goblins or kobalds or some other weak monster race as "lesser trolls" for a more-giants-at-low-levels
Just some of my thoughts.
I will think more on this and try to get something more concrete, but it will be hard without knowing which sort of theme you want for the world.
Hope it helps!
 

rozgarth

Explorer
Thanks for the reply!

As far as themes go, a Norse-style Giants theme was definitely the big inspiration, but your mention of Dark Sun also let's me see parallels with the aftermath of the cataclysm. I think more than Dark Sun though my other main inspiration was the Points of Lignt Setting. I'm trying to go for a darker tone for the game rather than lighter (even the fey ideas I have are darker, more Grimm's fairy tales than Disney).

I haven't read wheel of time (but I should!). I've brainstormed a bit on the starter area, and I've come up with a town built on the edge of the Barrowlands nestled under and around the old giant aqueduct. The town's guards use it as a lookout for orcs from the south and for undead from the Barrowlands (though fog obscures a lot that direction). Definitely inspired by Night's Watch for them.

The town also is built atop old Voraki catacombs, which have mostly been looted by now and are used for illicit trading/etc. The most famous tavern in town, Deader's, is there. Some tales of ghosts in the catacombs remain. The cultists use the catacombs to hide their activities, along with a shadowy network of scoundrels who engage in illegal trading.

Other than that, there is a militant paladin group that strikes out against fiend worship and regularly leads raids against the undead. They are under their own jurisdiction, and frequently come into conflict/taunt the town guard, who are less well-trained. They also tend to ruin any tombs they enter, making the treasure-hunter/seeker group angry. The seeker's look for old pieces of giant/Voraki civilization when they then sell on illegal market or to local trio of Wizards in town who have a monopoly on legally casting arcane magic (which they arranged for their own benefit). They take apprentices, but not many, who are frequently sent about on errands/missions for them. Their monopoly also leads commonly to warlocks, which can exacerbate the fiend problem.

I'd also like to throw in some border region Rangers/Druids/green Paladins for the outlying farmlands to protect against Orc raids and strike out against gnolls (whose communion with otherworldly creatures using old giant Stonehenge sites is a threat against nature).

Lastly, thanks for the suggestions about earlier giants, but I think I'll use orcs, gnolls, and undead for low levels with a sprinkling of ogres, ettins, and trolls before getting to real Giants, which will make them more special. I'll try to make it feel giant-like through atmosphere and old ruins (like the aqueduct).

Thanks
 

The M'hael

First Post
Glad you liked it!

If you had a map that you could scan/post that would help a lot. I had my own map, but you probably have different ideas. I also had some ideas about the timeline.
.The Jottun are a fairly young race. A crystal meteor falls from the sky and is seen as a sign from the gods
.The Jottun take the meteor to their capitol in the forest and gain magic powers and enlightenment from it. It's power is what the Jottun wizard priests use.
.The Jottun use the powers of the crystal to enslave other races they come in contact with as they expand and to create many artifacts including the Manacles of Binding(or whatever) They also use it and their slaves to create architectural wonders.
.The Voraki land on the shores of the land and start building their empire. Their Warlock priests (maybe Tiefling aristocracy) help them fight off the Jottun incursions.
.The Voraki strike back at the Jottun and unleash a terrible curse onto the Jottun capitol, twisting and corrupting the inhabitants and turning them into Formians.
.The Formians go and cast themselves into a great pit that leads to the Underdark.
.While the Jottun are weak the Voraki strike again and open the Demon Gate hoping to unleash their fiendish masters on the Jottun.
.The Fiends run rampart and destroy the Voraki capitol as well as much of the Voraki lands. Some Voraki become Gnolls and flee.
.The Jottun call upon their Crystal and cast a great spell of Disjunction. The Demon Gate is blown apart to the 4 corners of the earth (but not destroyed) and the Fiends are banished.
.The spell also disjuncts most other artifacts including the Manicles of Binding. The pieces of those are scattered as well. This frees the Dwarf Gods including Moradin.
.Finally, the Crystal is made disjunct. It shatters into 5 pieces.
Each of the Jottun Jarls take a piece and flee to their strongholds.
.The Gods are formed from all the ambient energy that was released in the Disjunction. You could have one for every domain, maybe even called that(Death, War, Light could be the names, Maybe The Daghda for nature)
.The Voraki are scattered, the Jottun are disjunct, and the dwarves and other races that were inslaved (Orcs?) are free.
.The Jottun start fading. Their power was tied to the crystal and now it is shattered. They become less enlightened, and more savage. This can also be connected to their religion that everything grows smaller and fades away.
.The Giantkins use their fragments to cope with the fading, but become more like their environments.
-Fire: Creation. If we continue to create, there will still be new even when the old fades away.
-Ice: Preservation. We can hold back the flow of time and fade slower or not at all. They also are trying to stop the glacier from melting. It's meltwater makes the lake that the aqueduct feeds from.
-Stone: Redemption. We can be redeemed and become enlightened again. Their pilgrimages are to the underdark to gain enlightenment and to try to redeem their fallen brethren. They feel that if the formians are cleansed they (forming) will be return and be undiminished Jottun.
-Cloud: Illusion. We can hide our diminishings until we find a way back to enlightenment.
-Storm: The Storm Giants have the core of the Gem and are the least diminished. They want to reforge the Gem and become more powerful then they were before.
-The Hill Giants are Jottun who diminished faster than normal and now inhabit the hills around the Fire Giant Forgehold.
.The Dwarves take over the old Jottun mines and hill settlements.
.The Elves follow the Voraki across the ocean and settle in the forest left vacant by the Jottun that became formians. Could give it a murkwood feel
.The New Empire forms, led by the descendants of Voraki princes, mainly tieflings. They want to use the Manacles to chain the Fiends to raise the empire again, have underground cult following that still worships the fiends. They have little territory and influence to start.
.The Archeology and History society forms at the same time dedicated to uncovering Jottun and Voraki artifacts. Much of the history is unknown and they want to find out what really happened.
This is where the Adventurers come in.
Also, the Storm Giants took huge chunk out of the mainland and made that their island/Atlantis home. My idea for the starter town was Half Town. It is on the coast and is where a Jottun settlement was ripped in half when Atlantis was taken from the mainland. You could also have the Great Road run through it.
Finally, the Great Road on my map was multipart and connected the current Giant strongholds as they were the major Jottun cities at the height of their power.
Also, The Giants won't try to put the Gem back together because they have grown apart and suspicious. They think the others are trying to steal their Shards.
My last idea is that the water from the lake is fed to the Aqueduct through a giant magic waterwheel that stopped working since the Disjunction.
Good idea with the Pallys, also the Giants got the Longest Road, but the Voraki have the Largest Army :p

More later,
The M'hael

PS
I swear I end up making a new home-brew world every two months or so, apparently just for fun. Thank you for giving me an outlet for my creativity. I will think more on factions and Cosmology to post on next.
 

rozgarth

Explorer
This is amazing! I'm literally speechless at how helpful this is! I really appreciate how you've been able to take a bunch of my jumbled thoughts and iron them out into a cohesive timeline. I also really appreciate that you've tried to incorporate everything I was already worked on. The crystal the Giants use also provides a possible outlet for including lovecraftian elements/aberrations for a change of pace in the campaign. I also like the gods being concepts/domains made concrete; that's exactly what I was thinking. As far as a map, I have a pretty rough sketch of the area, but honestly mapping has never been one of my main interests. I tend to push it off when I probably should work on it to help organize some of my ideas. I'm in classes now, but I'll look this over more later today when I have more time. Again, thanks a lot!
 

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