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5E Ideas For a World of Islands? (+thread)

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Hi! This is a thread dedicated to thinking about a world of islands. I'll list the primary goals, and some basic parameters, below, but the overall feel is supposed to be reminiscent of games like Chrono Cross, where you start out as a kid in a fishing village on a smallish island, or Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, where your life revolves to a very real degree around your boat or island village home, or both, and travel is an adventure.

Goals:

  • Thread should be a positive place to share ideas. Criticism of an idea is fine, as long as it is polite, and you drop it once your point has been made and recognized. No harping on something that no one else wants to discuss or dig into. Let it go.
  • A world that is made up of archipelagos, including some floating island chains, and no major continents. Nothing bigger than, say, Indonesia. There are great expanses of open ocean, and clusters where islands are concentrated, like the Carribean or the area around Indonesia, and other regions where islands are spread out, like the Pacific Islands.
  • A world with few, in any, empires.
  • A real place for all the oddball, oft-forgotten, peoples of DnD. Tortles, grung, and tabaxi are common races, etc.
  • A sense of exploration and voyages as adventures, little if any care for dungeons.
  • What dungeons there are should be truly fantastical. Things like a colossus or leviathan whose body is a dungeon.
  • Reimagining the hierarchies and related assumptions of dnd to fit such a different world. (Dragon turtles are more common than regular dragons, black and bronze dragons are more well known than gold and red dragons, giants need a pretty in depth rethink, etc.)
  • Share our knowledge of real world myths and history and IRL cultures that should influence different regions and islands.
  • Airships are a new technology, similar in use to airplanes in the early 20th century. Think Indiana Jones. Pre-WWII prevalence and usage. That is, the vast majority of the population has never been on an airship, and gaining an airship should be a big deal, but hiring one to get to a distant land is something 5th level adventurers can totally do as part of an adventure.
  • A world that is fun to play in, not a gritty dark gloomy or brutal place.
Parameters (these are more set in stone than the goals)
  • No humans. It's a challenge, for a lot of people, but no humans. If humans exist at all, they should be added toward the end as an interloper people from the stars, or a new people who've only left their small chain of islands in the last 100 years or less, or the remnants of a lost empire from a bygone age, etc. Less common than dragonborn in FR, for instance.
  • The classic LoTR races and related races like Gnomes are either reimagined in the light of the setting, or are just much rarer than the more thematically appropriate peoples.
  • "Yes, and," is great, but don't "yes and" the basic premise. Absolutely no major continents, not region-spanning empires, etc.

So! What are you ideas? What ideas have you seen before? Have you run or played in a similarly themed campaign? Are there already products like this for 5e? Does anyone think that there are new race, subclass, feat, spell, or magic item, ideas that need to be explored for such a project?

What are the best 3pp 5e ship suppliments that work better than the official material? Things like cutters and pilot boats that actually make sense, a wider range of boats, etc. Not looking for a lot of complexity, and I like how ships work in combat, but the boat stats are often kinda weird and nonsensical.

Anything I just plain haven't thought of?

I'll be posting my ideas so far of cities, societies, ecology, etc, later, but I'd love to hear y'all's thoughts first!
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I don't have a lot of time, but a few thoughts.

Do you care about real world ecology? Islands in fiction frequently have the opposite of reality - think monster island with King Kong running around fighting dinosaurs and other giant monsters. Opposite of the real world, but who cares? Besides, dinosaurs!

I'd have fun with giant floating cities that either sail the seas via magic or are towed by giant dragon turtles. So many options with that, are they peaceful traders? Ravaging horde that has ensorcelled the dragon turtles?

What about underwater civilizations? Perhaps lost to time - these could be something that doubles as dungeons. In my own world I have a region that was suddenly and cataclysmically flooded based on the Mediterranean (which was at one point dry land). But islands can sink as well, perhaps because of a long lost war or melting ice caps? In any case, in my scenario the lost cities only become accessible certain times of year and are protected by powerful magic which didn't really work as planned.

Could be fun, maybe more later. :)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I don't have a lot of time, but a few thoughts.

Do you care about real world ecology? Islands in fiction frequently have the opposite of reality - think monster island with King Kong running around fighting dinosaurs and other giant monsters. Opposite of the real world, but who cares? Besides, dinosaurs!

I'd have fun with giant floating cities that either sail the seas via magic or are towed by giant dragon turtles. So many options with that, are they peaceful traders? Ravaging horde that has ensorcelled the dragon turtles?

What about underwater civilizations? Perhaps lost to time - these could be something that doubles as dungeons. In my own world I have a region that was suddenly and cataclysmically flooded based on the Mediterranean (which was at one point dry land). But islands can sink as well, perhaps because of a long lost war or melting ice caps? In any case, in my scenario the lost cities only become accessible certain times of year and are protected by powerful magic which didn't really work as planned.

Could be fun, maybe more later. :)
Not sure “opposite of reality” is accurate, considering insular gigantism. It’s more an exaggeration of reality.
Either way, it’s fantasy, I’d prefer exaggerated insular gigantism and insular dwarfism. 2 foot tall tortles. There are some colonialists narratives there that I’d rather avoid, OTOH, so maybe only keep that to animals and monsters (miniature dragons and giant parrots!) than humanoids.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Something I played with for a similar setting was to make airships a lost technology. Mine were magically powered by big crystals, and the major island that was the source of mined crystals had fallen to a demonic incursion. The fall was recent enough that the tech was still mostly understood, but there were no longer any functional airships. I paired this with some floating Islands, like the ones from Avatar more or less. That provided some natural gating for the sandbox, because getting to the sky islands could only happen after an expedition to the demon isle to acquire another airship crystal. There was some long-arc stuff pointing to the Sky Islands as important, so there was a kind of natural teleos to the adventure.
 

MarkB

Legend
I was in a game several years ago that combined the concept of an island-based world with elements of Stargate. Essentially, the islands were widely spaced, and due to various hazards there wasn't a lot of long-distance ocean travel. There was an ancient network of teleportation circles which had (for the people on the starting island) only recently been unearthed and deciphered, and these formed the primary method of travel between islands, with a few more advanced cultures using airships.

The campaign initially focused primarily upon exploration and item-recovery, segueing into diplomacy and war as larger multi-island nations were discovered.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
- I could see a nation of water nomads using caste-ships and watchtowers-ships (like the Japanese atakebunes and other fortress ship), with a Louis XIV style court and sea-horse knights, pompous court traditions.

- Maybe a nation of coral growing architects, like the Telvanis from TES: Morrowind, but with corals instead of mushrooms.
 

I ran my Pathfinder 2 playtest in an archipelago, where an aboleth who was magically bounded to a ring of islands would use illusions and mind control to wreck ships, then let a handful of castaways escape, in hopes that by luring enough people back to rescue the others, it might find someone who could break the binding trapping it there.

The goal was, basically, to come up with an ethical "hunt the whale" adventure, so I needed an evil whale. But the rest of the archipelago was tropical and colorful, with a lot of cultures of competing castaways, and scattered treasures and ruins. One island could be horribly dangerous, while the next one over was safe, and I wanted to set up a hexcrawl campaign. Over the course of levels, the PCs would get the pieces they needed to make a sturdy boat that would protect them from mind control and let them face off against their captor.

We ended up not really liking the mechanics of PF2, so we decided to do a time skip and just wrap-up the final encounter with the aboleth. I'm a little sad I didn't get to play my idea through fully.

---

So I'd suggest, if you're going to have such a setting, consider that PCs will be on a ship a lot, so ship maintenance and improvement should have fun game mechanics and narrative hooks.
 

jmartkdr2

Adventurer
Even without a formal authority, there would probably be a lot of trade going on in such a setting, and a few big cities that are the hubs of that trade. Those cities would probably be wildly diverse - Star Wars cantina diverse - whereas most islands would probably have really only one race.

On the other hand, one island per race is also a good idea, just to keep it form getting too confusing.

Now that I think about it, there's a lot you could borrow form Star Wars, here. Just using islands instead of planets.
 


Seas of Voldari has some of what you are looking for.

I would look to Indonesia, Polynesia, and the Caribbean for a lot of the themes you desire. Maybe throw in a dash of the Phoenicians, who were great sailors, but not island based.

Also, the Homo floresiensis are a good way to shift some of the familiar halfing tropes a bit.
 



Dioltach

Adventurer
No metal armour. Giant birds that spend 99% of their lives in the air. Migratory fish and sea mammals, and sea nomads who follow them. Floating islands. Islands on the backs of turtles. Icebergs, with frost giants. Underwater volcanos with fire giants. Merfolk giants. Babel fish. Intelligent ships. Anything you can steal from Earthsea. Sea elves that farm schools of fish. Sea dwarves that mine underwater volcanos. Sea halflings who don't go beyond the shallows. Halflings who ride albatrosses. Living storms. The great gods Rey-Dar and So-Nar. Gremlins that mess with ships' rigging in foul weather. Ghost ships. Ghost airships. Giant sea otters that float on their backs and dispense wisdom. Sea druids. Pearls as the dominant currency. A world that's never seen soap lather...
 


Baba

Villager
Are you familiar with the game Archipelago? It was born out of love for Earthsea.

It is a short read, GM-less (or rather, everyone has some gm-duties), with card-based resolution and gameplay based on spesific phrases.

There aren`t a lot of specific setting elements - the premise is that you make those yourself, as part of the game. But it sounds like that is what you want to do anyway?

It is quite different from d&d, though, so if you are strictly after ideas for d&d, this may not be what you’re after.

It is available for free here: Archipelago v3 : Matthijs Holter : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
 

jmartkdr2

Adventurer
Another thought: just to keep on-theme, I'd probably have underwater 'islands' as well - basically instead of undersea mountain ranges just have small jutting undersea mountains around which undersea life gathers - including whatever undersea civilizations exist.

Submarines are probably higher CR than airships, I think.
 

I've actually ran something very similar to what Rangerwickett described for his PF2 game, and also separately similar to the picture he posted.

There was a High Fantasy city next to the Sea of Abstraction, essentially a sort of an astral plane analogue filled with Half Worlds....(an idea borrowed from Invisible Sun)....any island could be a demiplane that could contain anything. Yes, Githyanki pirates were there.

I love nautical campaigns...sailing off Into the Great Unknown is a foundational part of my imagination. I also love Earthsea.
 


Another thought: just to keep on-theme, I'd probably have underwater 'islands' as well - basically instead of undersea mountain ranges just have small jutting undersea mountains around which undersea life gathers - including whatever undersea civilizations exist.

Submarines are probably higher CR than airships, I think.
Related, invert the undersea.

An "island" would exist above and below the sea line, with the plane of gravity being at the sea line rather than towards the center of the planet. This flat-earth concept would have tides due to sky-moons and sea-moons that pull against each other in a constant war between the moon-gods.
 

Saelorn

Hero
If you're going to have something goofy that doesn't really belong in the setting, then sticking it on an isolated island is a marginally less goofy way of handling it.
 

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