Tuesday, March 24, 2015

D&D: A Beginner’s Guide to Wanderhaven

The following is an adaptation of something I wrote for my gaming group a few weeks ago by way of introducing the Wanderhaven setting for our new campaign.  The article itself reprints several ideas that have been presented elsewhere on the blog, but this was the first time I'd tried to collect the various pieces and present them as a coherent whole.

Prior to this, most of these ideas had been running loose in my notebook, cobbled together as needed for various short stories, adventures, and one-shots I've run for my kids.  As I work within the setting, though, concepts get fleshed out and become more useful, even if I rarely use many of the actual details presented below.

By the Great Island Bay lies Wanderhaven.
  City of ships,
  City of sails,
  City of trade goods and greed,
  Such is the life of Wanderhaven.
At the base of the bluff lies Wanderhaven.
  City of crowns,
  City of coin,
  City of beggars and need,
  Such are the people of Wanderhaven.
The great city, they say, is Wanderhaven.
  City of pride,
  City of war,
  City of hope and deed,
  Such is the spirit of Wanderhaven.
-- From Julius Cato’s “Song of the Great City
Wanderhaven is the homebrew campaign setting I created to run games for my kids.  It’s a fantasy mashup of the places that we live, work, and vacation, with most of our games taking place in a D&D version of either the Bronx or coastal Maine.  Wanderhaven has been a going concern since 2012, so there’s lots of information about it.  It even has its own tab here on the blog.  That said, you really only need to know a few things to get started:
1. Wanderhaven is the capital of the Kingdom of the Western Isles.  It’s a little bit of modern day New York, 14th century London, and ancient Troy all mixed together.
2. Wanderhaven is an immigrant city.  I think of it in much the same way that I think of New York, which is where I work.  However, its geography is more like what you’d find in Boston or Sidney, Australia.  The wharfs in Docks District give way to Great Island Bay, an enormous well-sheltered harbor.  This harbor has made Wanderhaven the greatest trading city in the Known World.

Armor of the kind used in most D&D campaigns is from the late 15th and early
16th centuries.  This is contemporaneous with the Thirty Years' War, the Wars
of the Roses, and Columbus's discovery of the New World.  The ship above is a
working replica of one of Columbus's caravels.  It therefore represents the pinacle
of sailing technology in Wanderhaven and the Kingdom of the Western Isles.

3. The Kingdom of the Western Isles is a subcontinental land mass roughly adjacent to the continent of Sentralia.  The Kingdom is about the size of Great Britain, Ireland, Greenland, and Iceland put together, but it’s shaped more like the coast of the northeastern United States, starting with NYC (Wanderhaven) in the south and running up to the northern border of Maine.  In world, everything north of Acadia National Park is unexplored wilderness, ultimately giving way to the dreaded Northern Ice.  The Kingdom claims this unexplored territory, but in reality no one lives up there but frost giants.  
4. Like New York, Wanderhaven is divided into districts or boroughs.  I’ve spent most of my time writing about Docks District (which is a bit like Hunt’s Point, the Bronx), but there is also a Merchant QuarterCity Center, and Noble District.  “The Nobles” is to Riverdale what Docks Districts is to Hunts Point.  There may be other districts as well, but these are the ones I’ve used to date.
5. The other location of interest—at least for the purposes of this discussion—is Breakwater Bay, the D&D equivalent of Bar Harbor, Maine.  Breakwater Bay is the last fishing village before the trackless wilderness of the Northern Frontier.  
6. The Kingdom of the Western Isles is opposed on the Continent by the Empire of Holy Sentralia.  The elite soldiers of the Empire are legionnaires from the Legion of Mars, the Red Lord.  If you’ve followed any of the ongoing Sketch In My Notebook short story “Drakar and the Order of the Blackened Glaive,” then you will recognize the Legion as the military order from which Drakar was expelled for being a half-demon.  I’ve yet to write about the Legion in anything but a villainous capacity, but there are a few Legion-centric stories outlined in my notebook right now that may one day put them in a more favorable light.
Hephaestus is construed very differently
in the Fire Islands.  This is because
fire elves live within sight of an active
The religious aspects of this setting are perhaps it’s best feature.  To keep it simple, I use gods from actual mythology.  Most of the Known World worships the Twelve, though in the Kingdom they’re known by their Greek names/personalities (as Olympians), while the Empire thinks of these same Twelve using their Roman names/personalities (the Dii Consentes).  Some few also worship the Norglander (Norse) gods, and there are cults who worship lesser known chthonic gods as well.  Hecate, goddess of necromancy and dark magic, is one of these.
What’s important is that clerical magic works, but no one can explain why or how.  
No one knows what to make of it, either.  Are Odin / Zeus / Jupiter are all the same being or are there multiple pantheons of gods that somehow all watch over the world simultaneously?  This question is the Divine Mystery.  Multiple religious crusades have been fought over interpretations of the Divine Mystery.
In Wanderhaven, most folks worship the Twelve, organized as a set of six Divine Couples.  The couples are not fixed, but the most common arrangement is:
Jupiter (Zeus) - King of the gods; god of the storm, air, and sky.
Juno (Hera) - Queen of the gods and goddess of matrimony; mother of Venus.
Juno and Jupiter are the supreme couple of the Twelve and the parents of Venus.  Jupiter watches over all while his wife is the goddess of marriage, from which springs the future of mankind.
Mercury (Hermes) - Messenger of the gods; patron of travelers and thieves; bearer of souls to the Underworld.
Ceres (Demeter) - Goddess of the home, harvest, and motherhood.
Mercury is the traveler of the gods, often depicted as wearing a winged helm.  He is balanced by Ceres, who waits at home tending the fields and farm.
Apollo (Apollo) - God of the sun, poetry, music, and oracles.
Diana (Artemis) - Goddess of the moon, the hunt, innocence, and childbirth.
Apollo and Diana are said to be twins, not a married couple.  Apollo’s domain is the day and the arts while Diana’s is the night and the violence by which society feeds.  Together, they hold sway over fate and the future.
Mars (Ares) - God of war; illicit partner of Venus.
Minerva (Athena) - Goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industries and the trades.
Mars is the god of war. In the Western Isles, this makes him the god of violence and a figure of evil. Sentralians reckon him the bringer of civilization through conquest. Mars is often paired with Venus, but though theirs is a fruitful union—from them comes Proserpina—it is also temporary and illicit. In marriage, Mars is paired to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, industry, and trade. Old soldiers say that this is because passion is fleeting while victory comes through preparation and superior strategy. 
Vulcan (Hephaestus) - God of the forge, fire, and blacksmiths; husband to Venus.
Venus (Aphrodite) - Goddess of love, beauty, and gardens.  With Mars, the mother of Proserpina.
Vulcan is the god of the forge—and of hard work.  His rage at his wife’s betrayal burns hot, but ultimately, she is his. She can only truly be herself in the home that he provides.
Neptune (Poseidon) - God of the sea and earthquakes.
Vesta (Hestia) - Goddess of the hearth and the state; Keeper of the Sacred Fire.
Neptune is the sea, both a bounty and a scourge.  Vesta is the goddess of the state and the Keeper of the hearth and the flame. She is constancy to her husband’s fickle nature, though in truth, one could not exist without the other. 

Lesser Gods
Pluto (Hades) - The God of wealth, the underworld, and the dead.
Most humans and surface dwellers reckon Pluto a figure of horror and revile his worship.  However, he is the god of Home and Hearth to Underworld races such as the dwarves and drow.  In either tradition, he is a jealous god, fair but fiercely protective of what is his.
"The Rape of Proserpina."
The Romans saw Proserpina as the daughter of Ceres and (eventual) wife of Pluto.  This
gave her a somewhat different role than was seen in the Greek tradition.
-- Orcus – Scourge of the underworld and punisher of broken oaths; servant of Pluto.  
-- Sol (Helios) – The sun god; servant of Apollo.
-- Liber (Dionysus) – God of male freedom, viniculture, celebration.  The Lord of Wines.
-- Libera (Proserpina) – The goddess of female pleasure.
-- Terra Mater (Gaia) – Goddess of the earth and the land.  A servant of Ceres.
-- Genius – The spirit of the divine in each individual; the collective spirit of mankind.
-- Luna – Daughter of Apollo and Diana.  The goddess of the moon and time.
-- Saturn (Cronus) – A deposed titan; father of Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, and Gaia.  God of the monstrous races.
Personal Note
The Romans especially were fascinating for the way they personified abstract concepts.  I do not think, for example, that many Romans believed in a goddess called Libera or in Genius, the personification of the divine spark in Man.  But personifying these concepts facilitates discussion, and I think the stories themselves occasionally illuminate universal truths about human nature.
Consider: Libera is the illicit daughter of Mars and Venus, given dominion over female pleasure.  She is essentially the goddess of girls who date dudes in motorcycle jackets, patroness of being with the wrong man because it feels good.  It’s fascinating to find this kind of abstract thinking in religious thought from some 2500+ years ago.
It should come as no surprise that I love Greco-Roman mythology.
Religious Observance
Set, god of storms, desert,
chaos and war
As with actual history, followers of the Twelve typically pay homage to the entire pantheon, though individuals may name a specific deity as their personal patron.  For example, a soldier prays to Mars before battle, to Neptune before taking ship back to his homeland, and to Venus upon reunion with his wife.  In his daily life, he would rightly be considered a follower of Mars, but this does not mean that he never honors the other members of the Twelve.  He honors the gods as circumstances dictate.
As DM, I allow anything.  That said, if a player decides that his character worships someone like Set from Egyptian mythology, I will definitely spend some time trying to decide what that means in game-terms.  I also try to keep religious implications in mind during social encounters.  People treat characters with unusual religious beliefs in sometimes particular ways.  Granted, Wanderhaven (like New York) tends to be a tolerant city, but the further one gets from civilization, the more likely people are to be less religiously tolerant.  In my home game, my daughter plays a Warlock of Loki, and one of the more interesting aspects of it is that she constantly has to hide her beliefs from almost everyone.
Non-Human Races, Noble Houses, and a bit of Politics
Elf society is organized into Houses in much the same way that drow are organized in the Forgotten Realms and Italian families were organized during the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Elf Houses in Wanderhaven pay obvious fealty to the human king because they have no choice, but as one approaches the frontier, the elves’ fealty becomes less pronounced.  Elves in the hinterlands may even claim independence—especially to each other—while privately doing what they must to prevent a Kingdom war fleet from appearing on their shores.  In a remote place like Breakwater Bay, local elf Houses are essentially non-allied co-belligerents with humans against local goblin and orc clans, but they in no way consider themselves to be actual subjects of the Kingdom.  Elves do not hate humans, but neither do they needlessly subject themselves to human rule.
Think of it like this: Elves are Vulcans.  Haughty and condescending, but decidedly outgunned next to the might of the United Federation of Planets/Kingdom of the Western Isles.  Besides which, if it wasn’t for the humans, who would protect them from the Klingons/Orcs?
In Wanderhaven, noble human families also arrange themselves in Houses.  For example, House Royal leads Wanderhaven and the Kingdom of the Western Isles.  House Foghorn holds Docks District and Great Island Bay as its hereditary lands, making it the second richest House in the Kingdom.  However, there are many other noble Houses, not all of which are particularly notable or wealthy.  Rich merchant families also claim family Houses, but only nobles are registered in the Great Book.  

This 1775 map of Boston Harbor gives a general idea of how
Great Island Bay might look.
Wanderhaven’s noble Houses were formed centuries ago and represent the interests of the oldest families in the Kingdom.  They have a strong vested interest in keeping the status quo in place.
Dwarf clans are roughly similar to elf Houses, but they’re larger.  Each dwarf Clan is comprised of several Families, all of which are roughly the same size as an elven House.  Dwarves are no fonder of human rule than are elves, but like elves, they don’t want open war with the human kingdoms, either.  Dwarves in cities like Wanderhaven live mostly outside the Clan structure, and for them, this stuff isn’t any more important than it would be for a human living in these same cities.  In the hinterlands, though, a dwarf’s first allegiance is to his Clan and Family.  Against that, duty to country is a distant consideration.  Full dwarf clans are far more common on the continent, however, even in the cities.  These generally pay more than token fealty to the Empire of Holy Sentralia.
Drow are elves from the Underworld.  They are not particularly reviled, save that they worship Hades.  Most regular folk find the drow religion off-putting but understandable considering where they make their homes.  The same could be said of dwarves, of course, but dwarves are far more common.  Everybody knows a few dwarves.  Most people have never seen a drow.
Fire Elves are elves from the Fire Islands.  They’re reviled everywhere because they worship Hephaestus in his aspect as the god of volcanoes.  Fire elves commonly placate their god by throwing living victims into a volcano’s mouth, preferring to sacrifice outsiders rather than their own people whenever possible.  Since fire elves are skilled sailors with a penchant for piracy, this practice makes them an enemy to sailors throughout the Known World.  Fire elves are about as rare as drow, and even in a cosmopolitan place like Wanderhaven, the sight of one is likely to start a riot.  Most folks know exactly one thing about fire elves, that they throw outsiders into volcanoes as an act of faith.
The closest Wanderhaven comes to having Dragonborn are cold-blooded lizardmen from the Southern Continent called legartos.  These are organized into a caste structure with warriors at the top and slaves at the bottom.  Legartos are not common, but those who leave their society usually do so to work as merchants or mercenaries.  Legartos tend to be animistic in their beliefs, but it’s not impossible to find some who worship the common gods.

Demons and Devils
Devils come from the Pit of Tartarus in Hades. Traditionally speaking, they are servants of Nyx, the goddess of night, and whatever other foul entities live in the depths of Hell. Opinions vary on whether Nyx was a sister of Zeus or one of the Titans who was never defeated and driven from Mount Olympus. Regardless, even the gods themselves fear her, and her minions are the equals of any of the Olympians' servants.

Demons are servants of Cronus (Saturn) the deposed titan and so-called god of monsters. No one is quite sure where Cronus's realm is, nor how you reach it, but demons are unmistakably real. Many monsters consort with them, most notably gnolls, lizardfolk, duergar, and some ill-inclined drow houses.

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