D&D 5E Last night I dreamt up a campaign setting... help me flesh it out!

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I had a dream last night that I was rolling up a character in a new campaign setting. I wound up going through a few character concepts, and each one revealed more about the setting.

First I was going to make a Paladin or Cleric. The DM let me know that this campaign had swarms of undead, which would target anyone using divine magic. Furthermore, characters wielding divine magic would not be let into cities.

Next I was going to make an artificer with a mech suit. But it turns out one of the other characters already had a mech!

Finally I decided to play as a Warlock with a technology-based patron. My Warlock would start with a mechanical hand, and as she grew in power more and more of her body would turn mechanical.

Based on my dream, I can tell the setting had the following features:

1. A theme of technology versus undead.
2. Walled cities guarded against swarms of undead.
3. High Technology in a Fantasy World
4. A High Tech Otherworldly Patron that transforms Warlocks
5. Mech suits
6. Undead are drawn to divine magic, and divine magic is banished from cities.

I am really taken with this campaign setting! I would love to flesh it out here on the boards. Those six things should be true, and then everything else is up for grabs. What else do you think is in this setting? What house rules would be appropriate?

Looking at #6, I really like this idea that divine magic, which is what is usually used against undead, is not allowed in cities. The fact that undead are drawn to it, and attack anyone using it, makes me think that there's a connection between the swarms of undead and divine magic. Maybe there was a great betrayal by the gods, or a lost war, and as a consequence the undead were summoned through divine magic? Or maybe the material world is the latest battlefront in the war between the gods, and currently it's the territory of the God of Undead? To hold it, they target any divine spellcasters.

Those are just some ideas! What are yours?
 

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univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Mech's + Fantasy are not my thing but, Divine magic drawing undead could because the Diety that is the source of the device magic has the ability to put to rest the zombie hordes souls.

Could imply a whole secret reversal thing where the zombies aren't evil actually, just driven to no longer be damned and the use of such divine power from said deity draws them like a beacon.

Idk something to chew on.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Mech's + Fantasy are not my thing but, Divine magic drawing undead could because the Diety that is the source of the device magic has the ability to put to rest the zombie hordes souls.

Could imply a whole secret reversal thing where the zombies aren't evil actually, just driven to no longer be damned and the use of such divine power from said deity draws them like a beacon.

Idk something to chew on.
I love that!

There's some sort of curse that's turning corpses into undead... The undead want to be released, and so swarm sources of divine power!
 

Consider that there are a lot of types of undead. Do you want them all to act the same way? Zombies and skeletons are mindless. Ghouls are driven by urges. Vampires need to feed, but can spend a lot of time alone and angsting. What about ghosts, mummies, and liches?

How high tech do you want your tech? Do you want mecha powered by crystals and armored with enchanted porcelain plates? Or with gears and wires and riveted steel? Forcefields using quantum polarity vacuum warping? Are there robots? Drones?

Are there trains? Are there airplanes? Are there smartphones? Can you decant a clone halfway across the continent with an instanced partition of your consciousness, and do you get XP if your clone dies but you manage to recover his neural backup stack?

Do you care about politics? What do the religious people think of this situation? How recent is this whole undead thing? How do the sapient walking dead structure their societies?
 

1. A theme of technology versus undead.
You'd want to make tech more broadly available, which might ean subclasses. Alchemical barbarians, electric bards, gunslinger fighters, et al.
2. Walled cities guarded against swarms of undead.
Very Points of Light. I like it. Fleshing out the first town will be important.
3. High Technology in a Fantasy World
See point #1 -you'll want to make sure that all pc's can use tech. I think you'll also want magi-tech as a normal thing.
4. A High Tech Otherworldly Patron that transforms Warlocks
As in one that turns them into clockwork men or one that implants magitech doodad that grant powers? (Obviously both)
5. Mech suits
My favorite implementation of this comes from Exalted - mech suits are treated as armor, except it makes you huge and has it's own strength score. This keeps the focus on the characters. I would make a point of having such things be equally available to all characters - don't make it something only the fighter can use.

Unless, of course, you want it to bee all about the mechs, but that's gonna need a lot more rules.
6. Undead are drawn to divine magic, and divine magic is banished from cities.
I love it. You don't really need to replace clerics since there are no required roles. And of course secret clerics are possible. But it does mean you need to decide what exactly counts as divine magic: warlocks? some patrons? paladins, druids, rangers?

My instinct says "only clerics and holy types" just to not limit players more than the theme demands.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Just to be clear here, I don't have any more ideas about this campaign setting than what I dreamed about.

Feel free to post declarative statements about the setting instead of questions!
 

Stormonu

Legend
The gods have closed the gates to the afterlife, and the dead have nowhere to go. Those who call on divine magic draw undead to them either out of anger (being denied an eternal rest) or seeking out hope of a chance to escape their cursed existence though the conduit of power.

In the absence of gods, a far realm entity has been contacted who has revealed strange bio-powered devices that can harness great powers. Some have learned to create devices powered by their own living force. Others have turned to powering their devices off the necrotic energies of the undead...and some have become undead trapped within their own infernal devices when it sapped the life from them.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The gods have closed the gates to the afterlife, and the dead have nowhere to go. Those who call on divine magic draw undead to them either out of anger (being denied an eternal rest) or seeking out hope of a chance to escape their cursed existence though the conduit of power.

In the absence of gods, a far realm entity has been contacted who has revealed strange bio-powered devices that can harness great powers. Some have learned to create devices powered by their own living force. Others have turned to powering their devices off the necrotic energies of the undead...and some have become undead trapped within their own infernal devices when it sapped the life from them.
Love it!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I was thinking up house rules that would support the Technology vs Undead theme.

Druid Wildshapes could be considered Constructs instead of Beasts.

The Find Familiar spell could create a Construct, instead of a fey, celestial, or fiend.

I like the idea that technology has leapt from medieval to high-tech, without the steps in between. So there's all this alien futuristic technology added to sword, catapults, castles, etc. It's a society that went from bows-and-arrows to lasers without gunpowder.
 

The setting is centered on the walled city of Laskan - once a major trade center, but since The Departure (of the gods), trade with other cities isn't a major thing.

(I'm not sold on that name myself, but I can't think of a good name right now.)

The walls are massive, covering dozens of square miles of land, and the inside has a mix of dense urban environments. It's not all clean and not all dirty - any kind of urban landscape can be found somewhere in the oversized metropolis.

Districts include slums of stacked hovels, factory centers choking with smog, ancient docks that still gather fish, trains between include a massive central terminal and a few lines to other cites, Uptown literally above the masses in the cleaner sky, and large parks and massive urban farm that only work with intensive magic. Infrastructure is huge (every pipe is big enough to fight in, it seems) and people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

There's a government, but it only has so much reach. Other then anti-undead and anti-divine operations, most government work is effectively farmed out to cartels who compete with each other and local gangs that occasionally actively protect people. And every faction has factions, so knowing who can do what is a talent worth money. (And plenty of less-than-legal ways of influencing business are employed.)

Beyond the walls no one effective keeps the undead at bay - travel there at your own risk. But in those wastelands are the ruins of the society from before the departure - a place of magic and wonder and spread-out wealth (though not much technology.) No one claims to own it anymore, so salvage isn't technically theft, but getting back inside the city can be a bit of a hassle, after a few vampires snuck in.

Inspirations include but are not limited to Camelyn/Tar Valon, Ba Sing Sae, SAO - Alicization, Exalted (the rpg) and Arcane (whatever that city was called). Sharn would probably be a big one if I ever played in Eberron.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The setting is centered on the walled city of Laskan - once a major trade center, but since The Departure (of the gods), trade with other cities isn't a major thing.

(I'm not sold on that name myself, but I can't think of a good name right now.)

The walls are massive, covering dozens of square miles of land, and the inside has a mix of dense urban environments. It's not all clean and not all dirty - any kind of urban landscape can be found somewhere in the oversized metropolis.

Districts include slums of stacked hovels, factory centers choking with smog, ancient docks that still gather fish, trains between include a massive central terminal and a few lines to other cites, Uptown literally above the masses in the cleaner sky, and large parks and massive urban farm that only work with intensive magic. Infrastructure is huge (every pipe is big enough to fight in, it seems) and people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

There's a government, but it only has so much reach. Other then anti-undead and anti-divine operations, most government work is effectively farmed out to cartels who compete with each other and local gangs that occasionally actively protect people. And every faction has factions, so knowing who can do what is a talent worth money. (And plenty of less-than-legal ways of influencing business are employed.)

Beyond the walls no one effective keeps the undead at bay - travel there at your own risk. But in those wastelands are the ruins of the society from before the departure - a place of magic and wonder and spread-out wealth (though not much technology.) No one claims to own it anymore, so salvage isn't technically theft, but getting back inside the city can be a bit of a hassle, after a few vampires snuck in.

Inspirations include but are not limited to Camelyn/Tar Valon, Ba Sing Sae, SAO - Alicization, Exalted (the rpg) and Arcane (whatever that city was called). Sharn would probably be a big one if I ever played in Eberron.
I was thinking one big city too! This is all so awesome, well done
 


It's not clear why the afterlife has been closed--but there's at least one deity who has chosen to defy this rule. This is why divine magic is still accessible, but the afterlife is not. The one deity still providing magic is a deity of the downtrodden and forgotten--which is part of why things are as bad as they are. Because divine magic is forbidden, the worship of this specific entity--whatever name they go by--is specifically forbidden. This has resulted in something of a catch-22; charity and support for the poor is associated with legal sanctions now, but remains objectively good. Euphemistic references to this deity are common: the Only, the Lonely One, the Last, the Shepherd. True believers absolutely still exists, since technically the religion isn't forbidden, just the magic, but hostile social response to people who practice the faith has made outward profession of faith very rare.

This connects with the somewhat "magipunk dystopia" vibe: The haves, with arcane magic or access to augmentation or eldritch endowment, live in relative luxury and security, while the have-nots scrounge about, and are prone to sudden rashes of undead outbreak within the city itself, because just one person dying of starvation or exposure can quickly spiral out of control into a small army of undead within the walls. The fact that it's forbidden to perform divine magic has radically weakened the main institutions that used to help the poor and homeless, exacerbating problems severely.

Resurrection is significantly easier in this setting, because souls (apparently) never depart the world. The issue is keeping the body fresh. Perhaps revivify has a longer window of opportunity, say ten minutes or more after death, but gentle repose takes an hour to cast (and longer as a ritual) and only lasts 24 hours, so it must be continuously and laboriously re-applied. When cast as an arcane spell, gentle repose can at least temporarily keep one dead body from rising without drawing the attention of undead. Being able to cast revivify as an arcane spell makes Artificers highly sought-after, likewise high-level Bards who can cast resurrection. More than a few clandestine Clerics still exist, though, and some make good money performing clandestine resurrections for rich and powerful patrons who can ensure protection while the spell is being cast.

Some corpses arise from death quickly, others take a while, and a few never rise at all. No one knows why. It's thought that it might have something to do with cycles of reincarnation (e.g. if you get unlucky and no one is born shortly after you died, you re-inhabit your body), or possibly that the Lonely One is able to hold onto a few souls and sometimes smuggle them into the afterlife. But nobody truly knows.

There's been a rise in Divine Soul Sorcerers, and some Warlocks with celestial-like healing powers seem rather cagey about their patron. Rumor has it that this is the doing of the Lonely One, or possibly agents thereof. Divine Souls are highly prized, having access to many of the anti-undead spells normally only available to Clerics without any of the "undead beacon" effects that actual divine magic has.

Outside the city, villages tend to depend on the protection of druids (especially Wildfire) or dwell in underground or treetop locations where it's easy to close up the doors or escape. Presumably, they have ways to grow crops that aren't negatively affected by the undead; I would assume a lot of root vegetables and/or Dwarven-origin foods (which can be grown underground) and other long-preservation things.

The City has the headwaters of a river providing its water supply, so they do not need to worry about water, but they're also landlocked and thus gain none of the benefits of the sea. Rumor has it that things may be very different across the ocean, but the closest ports were among the first cities to fall to the undead. People who make expeditions to find the coast don't tend to come back.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was thinking one big city too! This is all so awesome, well done

See, I love all these ideas, but I would go even more hardcore.

In the dusty memories of time, in the great before, powerful wizards made this world strong and prosperous. It was governed by a council of wise and benevolent leaders, a magocracy. But a rot spread in, a deep corruption as the greatest of them all, Lamastu, began to power her greatest magicks with necromancy. The followers of the many gods sensed that the balance was off, that the divine light that also suffused the world was dimming, and began to act against Lamastu. Sensing this threat to her power, she unleashed the colorless fire of the negative material plane ... with disastrous consequences. She could not control it, and it expanded and engulfed her world.

The clerics that confronted her died on the spot ... their divine sparks burnt from the their bodies. But as they went, so too did all believers who had a true spark of the divine in them. And crops withered and died, and forests melted away. And as the Gods looked down upon this world and what had been done to it, they cursed it and turned their backs, never to return. As the Gods departed, the believers who were struck down rose up, not to an exalted afterlife, but as imitations of themselves, as the undead, with nothing they wanted other than the death of life, and revenge against the magicks that caused their cursed condition.

No one knows if this is true, or just myth. There are no gods, or, if there are, they do not answer any prayers. Outside of the few cities there is little vegetation, little green remaining, and the cities themselves rely on subterranean fungus farms and crude hydroponics to feed their masses ... poorly. No one knows how many of the unliving there are, out beyond the city walls, but they are countless. What is known is that the unliving are attracted to magicks of all kinds, and to practice magick within the city walls is to be sentenced to banishment, or death ... but there is no difference.

Worse is that the world seems cursed. All who die rise afterwards as the unliving. Anyone who is sick or unhealthy is viewed with suspicion, and the dead are immediately sent over the city walls ... if they wait for you to finish dying. Since there is no magick, the people have turned to other methods to defend themselves. Warrior monks that patrol the streets. Gunslingers. Artillerists of all kinds. There are even people who have entire suits that make them stronger and faster.

It's a desperate and bitter world. Everyone sees their end, knowing that death doesn't bring respite, but the desert.
 

I had a further idea, as I was reflecting on it, but I think this should be stressed as one optional interpretation rather than the one and only truth of the matter. So I will keep it spoilered, to emphasize that there should be many different interpretations on this: Who is the Lonely One?

Personally, I think Bahamut makes the best choice for the true identity of the Lonely One. This is not because he is my favorite D&D deity--though that is true--but because his history in the setting that most closely resembles this one is very similar. Specifically, in the 4e Points of Light setting, Bahamut is the one and only deity actually trying to solve the problem with the broken afterlives in the Astral Sea. See, after the Dawn War, the afterlife broke: some deserving mortals that WANT to go to a specific afterlife just...don't get a spot. They do GO to the Astral Sea, but their soul doesn't actually "belong" to the deity domain it's supposed to, and supernatural forces will prevent them from staying. So Bahamut has arranged for the construction--and I'm not even slightly exaggerating--of divine ark-ship asteroids to sail the Astral Sea around his domain, providing comfortable living places for anyone friendly with the deities of Celestia, not just his own followers but anyone willing to play by the rules, more or less.

That sounds more than a little like a deity willing to defy his fellows who have "cut off" the afterlife because it's just completely unacceptable to allow that kind of injustice. But because he is a being of justice, he can't act with impunity, and must make do with compromise solutions and partial measures as he continues to look for a proper solution to the problem. That's why he's empowering Sorcerers and Warlocks, who skirt around the issues with divine magic. He's also not against the use of artifice, but it needs to be done with care and under strict ethical guidelines, not the rampant dangerous experimentation that many are prone to. I also just really like the idea of a deity caught in a catch-22 situation: being LG, and very specifically a deity focused on the downtrodden and forgotten, he desperately wants to fix the problem and create a just and fair world, but it is his own power that invites the greatest problems. If he acts to help people, he will hurt them, but he cannot choose not to help people in need when he has the ability to help them. That's a fascinating and really different take on divinity compared to almost all other settings, where the good gods are usually just too busy or far-sighted to get involved. Here, the deity literally can't get directly involved without making things worse...but cannot choose not to get involved either.

Whoever the Lonely One is, if you decide on a particular identity, there should be subtle clues about who it is--and what their real agenda is. Above, I assumed a Lawful Good deity--but that doesn't need to be the case. Perhaps the real reason the world is cut off is that an evil deity pulled a Takhisis and usurped the power of the gods, but in so doing cut off access to the afterlife. Such a deity would be totally fine with the world being really really awful and overrun with undead, and might see the "undead are drawn to divine magic" as a boon to encourage only necromancers and the reckless/ambitious to practice divine magic.

For a couple more notions:

No one is ever buried anymore. Remains are always either burned as soon as possible (religious rites are rare, if conducted at all) or, more commonly, simply thrown over the walls. There haven't been any "tombs" or "cemetaries" for decades, perhaps centuries depending on how long things have been as they are. At most, you might have old former temples re-purposed as places for keeping urns, but even then, many folks prefer to get rid even of the bone-ashes of the deceased--just out of superstition that they might somehow reanimate anyway.

The undead fear fire, moving water, and salt. These aren't just ritual shorthands: they're also reminders about the safe ways to prepare meat so that it won't spring back to life and kill you. Freshly-cooked meat is a luxury for most folks. Minced or ground meat is a little more common (since it's hard for undead burger to do much of anything), but far more common than either of those is either pre-cooked meat, or cured meats, which have been saturated with salt and thus repel the undead. Many, particularly among the poor, try to make do with low-meat diets, perhaps enjoying a cured beast flank once a week, or adding small shavings of dried meat to other dishes.
 
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I had a further idea, as I was reflecting on it, but I think this should be stressed as one optional interpretation rather than the one and only truth of the matter. So I will keep it spoilered, to emphasize that there should be many different interpretations on this: Who is the Lonely One?
While I love this answer, if one was thinking about publishing, there absolutely shouldn't be a canon answer. The mystery should be refreshed with every campaign.

(I can imagine, for example, the Raven Queen causing the situation in a botched attempt to gain total control of all dead souls, looking for a way to fix the system without going back to the old way - she still wants total control.)
 

While I love this answer, if one was thinking about publishing, there absolutely shouldn't be a canon answer. The mystery should be refreshed with every campaign.

(I can imagine, for example, the Raven Queen causing the situation in a botched attempt to gain total control of all dead souls, looking for a way to fix the system without going back to the old way - she still wants total control.)
Yeah, that's exactly the kind of thing I wanted to keep open. As you say, making it an eternal mystery every time the game is played is much better.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I was thinking about Warlock Patrons.

In this world, Warlock Patrons are prisoners of powerful warlock cabals. Warlocks draw their power not through bargains but as leeches.

For example, the Church of the White Chain has within it a powerful deva bound by magic and deviliron. Warlocks pledged to this church are able to use the deva as their patron. I see this Celestial as an imprisoned scholar, writing endless religious screeds and prophesies consumed as magic scrolls by the church.

The Fiend, on the other hand, is an ancient nameless devil who has been cut apart and reduced to raw hellfire. At first a few powerful warlocks used huge tanks of hellfire to empower their magic. But over time, the hellfire has been split and portioned and used to pay off old debts so that now small jars or vials of hellfire are sold on the streets. The hellfire still contains bits of the original Fiend's intelligence and voice, and Warlocks who feed their hellfire with souls can see it grow and become more powerful.

There are two Patrons who are not bound:

The Great Old One is broadly worshipped by society at large, for it is They who gifted the world with technologies unimaginable. Warlocks of the Great Old One are basically clerics in this setting, leaders of religious ceremonies.

The Hexblade is an intelligent organic nanotechnological goo that has freed itself from the bonds of the Great Old One and wishes for nothing less than anarchy.
 

Draft for mechs:

Battlewalkers (I'm terrible at naming things) are metal and crystal devices made to help human-size people fight large monsters like giants and Dragons, back when encountering those in the wilderness was a thing. They're large or larger, generally humanoid in shape and fully armored.

The main innovation of the battlewalker that made it the tech that stuck is how they're controlled. Rather than a complex series of lever and wires to move individual joints, battlewalkers have an arcanomechanical interface that links directly to the neuromuscular system of the user - they magically connect directly to the nerves that control the users muscles. Ergo, to move the battlewalker's arm - you move your arm. (Slight difference in shape are accounted for by the interface.) It's similar to attuning a magic item, really (but not technically since it doesn't use your attunment slots). You don't really pilot the walker; you just wear it.

The main advantage is: using the walker isn't a skill. You just climb in and power it up and let the interface attune to you. Anyone - a trained warrior, a wizard, a visiting diplomat - can use the machines to cross dangerous ground, any elite combatant can be assigned to dragon-slaying, and no one needs special skills to benefit form the walker. There's the downside of anyone can steal it and use it, but they're a bit too large to make theft easy.

The design reason is: they need to be really powerful, so they should be available to the whole party or no one. If only the fighter can use the 20 foot tall killer robot suit, the fighter will either be way to powerful or the mecha won't feel like a mecha. Not having a skill gate means the dm can give them to the whole party and everyone gets in on the fun for as long as they can keep the battlewalkers. (My experience with Star Wars Saga Edition convinced me of the need for this. Mounted combat has the same issue.)

In game terms, the battlewalkers have four core attributes: a Strength score, an Armor Class, a Hit Point total and a movement speed. When wearing the battlewalker, you replace your strength, AC and speed with the walker's. Most also give advantage to strength checks and saves, and constitution saves, You add the hp the same way you add hp for Wild Shape: it goes first, overage hits you. Different models would have different numbers.

Battlewalkers have arms (almost always 2) that the wearer can use as their own. The wearer can use weapons and shields and even spellcasting foci through these arms. Large weapons do an extra die of damage, huge versions do two extra dice. Many models have power fists giving them enhanced unarmed strikes. And any enhancement that could possibly be applied to armor can apply to a battlewalker.

Aside form those limits, characters use their own attributes: you keep you non-str ability scores, proficiencies and saves, and can use any class feature: you're magically attuned after all. Bards can inspire, barbarians can rage, fighters can use superiority dice and spellcasting isn't restricted.

The most basic "Ogre" model would have stats like Str 19, AC 16, 58 hp, move 30'. Unarmed strikes 2d4+str. (rarity uncommon, but the city keeps track of who owns them. Unregistered are very rare.) Large weapons suitable for use aren't too hard to come by. (I'm picturing the walker things form Final Fantasy 6 for these)

A really powerful "Solar" model would have stats like Str 29, AC 24, 158 hp, move 50' fly 50', adds 4d8 radiant damage to all weapon attacks and spells that already do radiant, fire, or lightning damage. Comes with a holy avenger longsword and shield of spell turning. (rarity: legendary or maybe artifact, currently owned by the First Consul) (This looks a unique Gundam, and is about as big a deal)

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of battlewalkers in Laskan, but there are millions of people and the various powers that be keep an eye on anyone know to have one. It's very hard to keep them secret. Aside form the occasional giant monster invasion, they're most often used in parades to show off one's power. Actual battlewalker vs battlewalker fights are rare because of the collateral damage of these things operating in the city.
 

Bupp

Adventurer
One thing I wrote up for my own homebrew world was a conversion from the Teratic Tome. It would fit here with some tweaks to the lore.

The Obsidian Giant is an early mech suit that failed in a horrible way. The pilots became fused with the suits and driven insane.

They still roam the wilderness, fighting undead, able to wipe out small hordes on their own. They are more interested in adventurers, though. They wish to feed on their magic!
 

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