Into the BorderLands

This is the first blog in a new series where I will talk about DMing my new 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Writing about the adventure preparation I’m doing and how my game is going.

The Start is Nigh

It’s a week before my next D&D campaign starts. This will be my first real 5th Edition homebrew campaign as a Dungeon Master. I’ve played 5e homebrew, and I’ve run published adventures, and I’ve run homebrew for other game systems… but this will be my first foray into an extended 5e narrative of my own devising.

And boy do I feel unprepared. But intentionally so.

Embracing the Sandbox

The last time I ran a homebrew game was around 2012, when I DMed a Ravenloft campaign using the Pathfinder ruleset (periodically interrupted by 5e playtesting one-shots). This Ravenloft game was preceded by my “Lancefinder” campaign, where I ran the original Dragonlance adventures, using and converting the MWP 3.5e updates. However, as I knew the Dragonlance campaign was finite and had a rough idea of the end date, I had many months to plan my Ravenloft campaign: I generated adventure hooks and plots, thought of horrifying encounters, and considered potential villains or monsters I wanted to use. While I wanted the campaign to be more of a sandbox after the hard unyielding railroad of Dragonlance, in the end it was very constrained as I had so many plots and ideas I was burning to use. There was an illusion of a sandbox: the characters could go in any direction, but my planned events would find them.

This time round, I’ve had far longer to plan. The better part of a year, as my primary gaming group has been trying other game systems and running little mini-campaigns, such as FATE, Icons, Shadows of Esteren, and Star Wars. However, despite the longer lead-in time, I’ve written far less, seldom thinking beyond the first encounter. This is very purposeful. I really want to be reactive in this campaign, letting the character’s stories and players’ interests guide the story.

A Whole New World

The other wrinkle to this campaign is that I’m not playing in a prepublished world, such as Dragonlance, Ravenloft, or Golarion. For the first time in years I’m returning to my homebrew campaign setting. I’m going full homebrew, without even the safety net of prepublished world lore to fall back upon.

For most of my players, it will be their first introduction to this world. The BorderLands has been my setting homebrew setting since late 2nd Edition, but last saw play in a 4th Edition campaign, early in the lifespan of that edition. I haven’t changed the setting while transition to 5th Edition, beyond tightening the lore for the classes. However, I’ve come to lament the name. Keep on the Borderlands is a little too classical of an adventure module, making the name of the world a little too generic for my tastes. There’s also the video game series of the same name, which unfortunately shares a similar design aesthetic with much of the world. D’oh.

Oh well, hindsight and such…

The BorderLands is a post apocalyptic fantasy world. Not our world after the bomb, but a fantastical setting that suffered a nearly world ending cataclysm. The Catastrophe. This event flipped the world’s axis almost 90-degrees making the planet tidally locked: one side always faces the sun, while the other faces away.  The big continent-spanning empire collapsed, and now new civilisations are emerging around the equatorial band.

Despite all this, the setting is very kitchen sink fantasy at its heart. It’s a very simple and traditional D&D world with a slight twist to add a little extra flavour of continual day or night when you travel in a particular direction.

Really, most D&D settings are “post apocalyptic” after a fashion. The tropes of D&D require ancient empires to have produced the ruins and dungeons that populate the world. There has to be an element of the dark ages or faded glory. I expect many commoners living in the period following the fall of Rome might have believed they were experiencing the End of the World.