United They Stood; Depraved They Fell
Campaign Assumptions & Guidelines
Below, you will find the assumptions and guidelines that were established before this campaign began. It outlines the way we are applying D&D 5th Edition (D&D 5e) rules to an alternate, fantasized version of our world's history.
We are using the standard D&D 5e races, assigning each to a different world region. The more exotic the region (from a Western perspective), the more exotic the race. (No offense or ridicule is intended for any real world group. The following decisions made the most sense with the type of world we were creating.)
American Indian: Elf
Middle Eastern: Tiefling
*Choosing the African race was tough because the remaining choices were Halfling and Half-Orc. I didn't want them to be short or brutal, so I decided to combine the best of each race into a Half/Orc race, though we'll call this the African (or Afro) race. Below are the African stats.
Use Half-Orc stats, but replace the following:
- Strength up 2, Constitution up 1 —> Wisdom up 2
- Menacing —> Brave
- Savage Attacks —> Lucky
- Choose a subrace:
- Lightfoot—Dexterity up 1, advantage on stealth checks while hiding
- Stout—Strength up 1, advantage on poison saves, resistant to poison damage
We are sticking to the standard D&D 5e classes as well, although I am open to homebrew archetypes and backgrounds. I asked each of the players to consider the type of character they wanted, and then choose the class that best fit their vision, that best fit the bill for the character's occupation or role in their society. The way a class is applied to a character was open to interpretation and discussion. I also provided to the players the following notes on magic:
In urbanized societies, "magic" appears as the result of experimental science and alchemy. Focus on potions or constructed elements and mechanisms (ex. doctor, scientist).
In native societies, "magic" is derived from herbs, natural phenomenon, and chanted blessings or curses. Focus on a belief of greater powers or beings that are often manifested in forces or signs found in nature (ex. medicine man, shaman).
The campaign will take place in the late 1700s, during the American Revolutionary War and its aftermath. Generally speaking, we are assuming real world history up to this point, with the addition of magic, mythical creatures, and fantasy-inspired races. From the first session onward, history could unfold in any direction, being written by the actions of the players.
The New World in this fictional world is much more wild than our real one. This means that American legend and folklore are real. Creatures like the Thunderbird, Jersey devil, Wampus Cat, Jackalope, Bigfoot, and much more are all real in this world. To build this more magical and fantastic version of our world, I will be taking inspiration from American tall tales, J.K. Rowling's stories set in America (such as the film, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"), Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, and other sources of fiction and folklore.
Place names will be the same, though people's names may differ. Non-player characters (NPCs) will be built the same way the player characters (PCs) are built, with the standard D&D 5e races and classes in mind. This may affect the roles and actions of some (or all) historical figures we know, further affecting this alternate history (for example, making George Washington a paladin when he takes his Oath of Office could modify his role and impact in history).
Things take time. Wars take years; ratifications take months; travel takes weeks; printing takes days. To keep a steady and engaging flow of action and development in this campaign, I will take cues from the Downtime Activities guidelines from the Dungeon Master's Guide, including training to gain levels between sessions. This way, the player's characters can still advance and progress to some degree during the more mundane periods of time in this world.
Limits of Evil
This campaign will focus on the descent of the player characters into evil and madness. While this is a fresh, new approach for me and the players, we felt it was important to set some boundaries regarding how bad the characters would be allowed to be. These boundaries are meant to keep the game within everyone's comfort zone.
This campaign won't go beyond a PG-13 movie rating or a T video game rating. We've played lots of D&D as a group, and we've already established a group culture in which violence, language, and actions are kept at an appropriate level, so I was never very worried about these players. Even so, I shared with them the following thoughts and guidelines:
As a general rule in this and any form of fiction, I find it is description that should be kept in check, more so than a character's actions. For example, we know that Anakin Skywalker killed younglings, but in the Star Wars film we see almost nothing of the act, so it becomes less disturbing for the audience.
Because we're dealing with historical events, we may encounter sensitive topics (such as slavery, oppression, and inequality). It is a given that players will differentiate their own language, actions, and philosophies from that of their characters.
With what the evil PCs do, I feel that I can accept most violence, oppression, dishonesty, political corruption, and the like, as long as it isn't too intense or graphic. Also, we will stay away from sexual abuse of any kind. Like I said, I trust this group. I just want to keep the evil acts on the conservative side of the PG-13 realm. I can handle the oppression, trickery, and tyranny of a dictator, but I feel that depraved, lewd, and cannibalistic methods is too much for this D&D campaign.
In short: While the PCs will become their worst selves, the players and the DM will continue to be their very best selves.
P.S.—Examples of good-to-bad stories that kept within a PG-13 rating:
- Anakin Skywalker —> Darth Vader
- Harvey Dent —> Two-Face
- Buddy —> Syndrome
- King David