Last month, "Dungeoncraft" hinted at the basic political situation of the new campaign world. Since it's a rough-and-tumble "land that time forgot" setting, the world is dominated by a loose collection of primitive tribes with little or no central organization. Five tribes were created to get the campaign off the ground -- one elven, one dwarven, one half-orc, and two human. The next step is to start adding details. In the spirit of the First Rule of Dungeoncraft, we only need enough information about each tribe to allow the campaign to get underway. Once simple details on the various tribes are decided, basic political and geographical characteristics about each of them can be created.
The Solaani (Elves)
Elves usually enjoy the oldest and most advanced civilization on the typical D&D game world, so the elves of this world literally live higher up than the other tribes. They inhabit lofty citadels located in the mountains. As a consequence, they've managed to tame a variety of flying reptiles with whom they share an almost supernatural bond that is now several centuries old. An elite order of elven knights ride into battle mounted on these flying creatures.
As on most D&D worlds, the elven civilization is the oldest culture on the planet. This suggests that it was actually the elves who were responsible for the downfall of the lizardfolk civilization that once dominated the world (see issue #280). Combining this idea with the hint of tragedy that is usually implicit in the elven culture inspires an idea for an interesting secret, neatly taking care of the obligation to the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft. Somehow, during the final conflict of that great war, the elven leaders were secretly forced to sacrifice the future of their own people in order to secure a victory over the lizardfolk. As a result, the elven civilization is gradually waning and doomed to die out.
Culturally, the elves are a people of ceremony and tradition. Although still less technologically advanced than the average culture on the average D&D game world, the elves are certainly the most sophisticated inhabitants of the lost world. Theirs is the only living culture that has evolved its own written language, the single most important tool the elves have used to safeguard and pass along generations' worth of lore and tradition.
Within the campaign, the elven civilization can function as a sort of library. The elves are a convenient source of mystical secrets and historical facts that will be needed upon occasion to serve as clues and springboards into adventures. This notion leads to the idea that knowledge is somehow tied to the social hierarchy within elven civilization -- every time an elf attains a higher social status, the tribal elders entrust her with a few new secrets. This way, only the tribe's highest-ranking elders know everything, a fact that conveniently explains why PC elves don't begin play knowing many of the world's secrets.
The Inuundi (Dwarves)
Dwarves are the great craftsmen of most D&D game worlds. This characteristic suggests that perhaps it was the dwarves who originally built all the cities and tunnels inhabited by the lizardfolk who once dominated the planet. This in turn suggests that the entire dwarven race was once enslaved by the lizardfolk. Just before the empire of the lizardfolk fell, a Spartacus-type hero led an uprising of the dwarven slaves and secured their freedom. In fact, the results of this upheaval were probably so catastrophic that it seems natural to tie the revolt into the downfall of the lizardfolk. Thus, at some point the leader of the dwarven uprising made an alliance with the leaders of the Solaani and it was this pact that both bought the dwarves their freedom and sealed the Solaani victory. The elders of the dwarven tribe might even know the secret about the forthcoming end of the elven civilization.
Their background suggests that the dwarves of the lost world are somewhat isolationist. Although they have reached a tacit understanding with the elves, their centuries of slavery have made them generally distrustful of outsiders. Even now, several generations after they secured their freedom, only the hardiest dwarves have much contact with the outside world. The debate over whether or not to become more involved with nondwarves might be a major issue that divides dwarven society. A growing faction of younger dwarves might be urging their elders to strengthen ties with the rest of the world. The existence of such a faction provides a convenient means to explain PC dwarves, who obviously don't spend their time hidden away with the rest of the tribe.
The fact that the dwarves are isolationists implies that their home is naturally cut off from the outside world. In observance of D&D tradition, a subterranean home seems to be in order. The dwarves of the lost world will inhabit an underground citadel they once constructed for the lizardfolk. This citadel is just one terminus of a huge network of underground structures and tunnels the dwarves constructed for their former masters. These subterranean passages allowed the lizardfolk to travel across the continent -- they were as important to the reptilian empire as roads were to the ancient Romans. Since the civilization of the lizardfolk collapsed, darker, less pleasant things began to occupy the tunnels, and even the dwarves fear to enter all but a few of them. This last bit of lore should guarantee an adequate supply of "dungeons" all over the continent. It also suggests an important role the dwarves can play in the campaign. Theoretically, the dwarves might be the only inhabitants of the lost world who are familiar with the locations and secrets of all the dungeons and tunnels. Thus, the dwarves can easily serve as an important source of ancient maps and geographical tidbits that can be used as adventure hooks.
The Second Rule of Dungeoncraft requires a secret about the dwarves: The dwarves are actually a genetic offshoot of the elves. Generations ago, before the dwarves were enslaved, the dwarves and elves were one people. The elf leader at the time voluntarily offered up half of his tribe into servitude to protect the remaining half. Over the generations, natural selection forced the enslaved elves to evolve and adapt to their work in the tunnels. Gradually, they became shorter, stockier, and more hairy.
The Half-Breeds (Half-Orcs)
As noted last month, on most D&D game worlds, half-orcs play the role of the ultimate outcasts. Somewhat shunned by polite civilization and orcs alike, the half-breeds are often forced to look out for themselves and occupy whatever little niche in society they can manage to craft for themselves.
Figuring out how half-orcs fit into the world obviously forces one to figure out how orcs fit in, and you shouldn't create too much too fast. But what if the half-orcs aren't really half-orcs at all, but half-lizardfolk? In many respects, the new campaign is set up so that lizardfolk will play the role traditionally occupied by orcs: powerful evil humanoids who oppose elves and dwarves. Although their empire is now shattered, it's easy to imagine tribes of scattered lizardfolk still roaming the landscape and perhaps providing the lion's share of the players' opposition early in the campaign. Since it's already established that the lizardfolk are slavers, it's easy to imagine them siring half-breed children, and these unfortunates would suffer the same fate reserved for half-orcs in the typical D&D game world. Another strong advantage of this plan is that the unique half-lizardfolk race helps reinforce the campaign's unique identity.
Most of the half-breeds on the lost world live on the fringes of other tribal societies and integrate into those cultures as best they can. Because the lizardfolk are so hated and mistrusted by most of the world's other inhabitants, the half-breeds are the victims of a lot of prejudice, and most of those who are accepted into other societies are only adopted reluctantly. Still, the hardships tend to make the half-breeds who survive resourceful and durable.
To make things a tad more interesting, there are rumors all across the lost world of a whole tribe entirely made up of half-lizardfolk. Most believe that this tribe lives somewhere within the ancient dwarven tunnels and occasionally ventures forth to raid other tribes and liberate more half-breeds. Many half-lizardfolk dream of one day finding this tribe and joining its ranks.
The Second Rule of Dungeoncraft requires a secret about the half breeds: This semi-secret tribe exists, and its charismatic leader is not a half-breed at all, but an elf who uses magic to disguise her appearance. The elf has been secretly assembling the half-breed army to combat some enormous calamity she expects to arise over the next several years. She originally attempted to convince her fellow Solaani of the danger decades ago, but when it was clear they would not accept her warning, she began assembling her army. At this time, not even her followers are aware of her true nature or grand purpose.
The Bruun (Human)
Most D&D game worlds are human-centric, and the lost world isn't an exception. At least two-thirds of the campaign's player characters and important NPCs will be human. To encourage such a trend, the world needs a couple of interesting human tribes to attract the players' attention.
The largest and most populous band of humans in the campaign's starting area is a tribe of formidable warriors known as the Bruun. In many ways, the Bruun are an echo of the Spartans. Bruun society believes that the best way to insure survival is to begin brutally training the young at the earliest possible age. By the age of twelve, a warrior of the Bruun is a fierce combatant who
has already learned how to survive alone in the jungle for several days. These harsh measures not only prepare the youngsters for life on the lost world, but they cull out the weak, allowing the tribe to expend its resources on those with the best chance for survival.
Across the lost world, the Bruun are known not only for their battle prowess and ferocity but also for their elaborate festivals. Several times each year, all Bruun take part in complex rituals that re-enact various parables, legends, and important moments in tribe's history. The ceremonies are the means by which the Bruun hand down important lessons.
Two distinct "subtribes" of Bruun inhabit the starting area of the lost world -- one basically good-aligned and the other mostly evil. Such a schism makes a certain amount of sense -- the larger a primitive tribe gets, the more difficult it becomes to hold the tribe together. The division also accommodates a broader range of Bruun PCs. The basic origin of the separation was a sharp disagreement among tribal elders as to how to insure the survival of the tribe. One faction believed in using conquest to consolidate the tribe's power, while a second refused to subjugate any free creature if it did not pose a direct threat to the Bruun. Eventually, some seventy-five years before the campaign begins, the former faction left the main tribe to seek its own destiny. Both factions of Bruun now inhabit their own makeshift strongholds within the jungle and the surrounding hills.
The Bruun schism provides a good idea for a secret. The leaders of the evil-aligned "conquest" faction were actually subtly manipulated by a mysterious stranger, who is the real father of their beliefs. To this day, the stranger still visits the leaders of the separatist faction and exerts an influence over them. Inexplicably, he doesn't appear to have aged a day in the last three-quarters of a century. Over time, the stranger has taken his puppets down darker and darker paths, subtly fueling their bloodlust and need for conquest. Lately, he has introduced the leaders of the faction to an eerie magic ritual during which they drink the blood of a tyrannosaurus, the oldest and most powerful of all the creatures on the planet; in return, they receive incredible raging strength and prowess. Of all the Bruun, only the elders of the separatist tribe have had any contact with the stranger and know he exists.
The stranger is actually a were-raptor, a shape shifter who can change between human and dinosaur forms. The were-raptors are servants of the tyrannosaurs, who possess a secret spiritual and malevolent intelligence. Although they are all but extinct and rarely encountered on the lost world, the tyrannosaurs are much more than mere dinosaurs and still subtly manipulate the affairs of the planet like some sort of dark gods. Through their servant, they are slowly guiding the Bruun separatists toward a secret sinister destiny.
The Vistiiri (Human)
The second human tribe is a group of nomads known as the Vistiiri. Although they are not as populous or influential as the Bruun, the Vistiiri still comfortably out-number the Solaani and Inuundi in the campaign's starting area. Although they boast their own impressive army and they are more than capable of defending themselves, the Vistiiri basically believe in peace. To them, life on the lost world is already hard enough without going out to seek additional conflict.
The Vistiiri do not inhabit any sort of fixed villages and instead wander from place to place, following a carefully calculated plan of migration. Their aim is to avoid the hunting trails followed by the larger carnivorous dinosaurs at various points in the year. Along their routes, they conduct a lot of trade with neighboring tribes, making them a good source of information about events in the region.
Thanks to their frequent contact with the Solaani, the Vistiiri have developed a true love of song, and just about every member of the tribe carries a musical instrument. In fact, an interesting tribal custom has arisen around the Vistiiri's fondness for music. Whenever an older member of the tribe is on his or her deathbed, the Vistiiri craft a unique musical instrument and place it at the elder's side. When death comes, the Vistiiri believe that the voice of the elder departs the body and moves into the instrument, where it can be heard whenever the instrument is played thereafter. These special instruments have a number of important functions in Vistiiri society. Skilled bards seem to have the ability to commune with the departed spirits of the elders by playing elaborate compositions on them. Also, the Vistiiri prefer to go into battle with the voices of their ancestors before them; a whole troop of musicians producing a cacophonous symphony on hundreds of unique instruments always stands at the head of their armies.
Their secret? The head of the Vistiiri tribe carries an unusual musical instrument as his badge of honor. The instrument houses the voice of one of the oldest and wisest departed chieftains of the tribe. For generations now, unknown to all, the spirit of the departed chieftain has been the real ruler of the tribe -- the rulers who have followed him have done little more than unwittingly follow his instructions. This explains why the Vistiiri chieftain is usually found alone in his tent, obsessively playing the instrument; he is actually receiving instructions from the elder. As sinister as this sounds, it's actually good for the Vistiiri people. The departed elder is an excellent leader and his spirit has already guided the tribe through calamities that his earthly ancestors could not have handled on their own.
Putting it All Together
So now that the basic assortment of tribes has been decided, a quick summary of the overall political situation is in order. The chart below explains the relationship between the tribes. You can cross-index any two tribes to find out how they view each other.
Solaani Inuundi Half-Breed Bruun Vistiiri
Solaani P N S N F E
Inuundi N P S N T E
Half-Breed S S P S T S
Bruun N N S P S E
Vistiiri F T T S P T
Lizardfolk E E S E T P
P: Each tribe generally prefers dealing with its own kind
T: The Vistiiri trade with all most other inhabitants of the lost world, including some lizardfolk. The one exception is the separatist Bruun faction. By and large, the Vistiiri have cordial, but not particularly friendly relations with their trading partners.
F: The two tribes favor each other and enjoy friendly relations.
S: The tribes view each other with suspicion, though they are not openly enemies.
E: The tribes generally view each other as enemies.