In 1980, John Eric Holmes, who was both an editor for D&D and an associate professor of neurology, published this piece in Psychology Today. It’s a fascinating look at what the game looked like 35 years ago, including a number of GM procedures that probably wouldn’t fly today.
The Hunting Grounds is a setting concept I’ve been mulling over for a few months. There isn’t much to it yet, but it’s about to time to start putting it in writing.
The world is a nearly pristine wilderness of dense, deep forests (called the Weald), sheer mountains, and roaring rivers. Think a kind of romanticized vision of barbarian Germania and Helvetia. Mankind’s cities are essentially fortresses, either lodged up in mountains passes, perched on fortified hills, or in some other strongly defensible position. It’s not a distopia; the cities are thriving in their own way and they’ve all adapted to the world in one way or another, but there’s a strong dichotomy between being enclosed within a settlement, and being outside, in the wild.
The world is beautiful and deadly, filled with sound, life, and ancient, slumbering awareness. The mountainous landscape is carved with valleys and ravines, sheer cliffs and sudden swarths of bracken. The forests alone can spell the doom of an untrained traveler, but the ruined settlements and lost relics of the old kingdoms buried in its heart often prove too much a temptation.
The reason mankind has barricaded its towns is not for fear of war. Although the cultures of the various cities have put them at political odds with one another, a true war has not broken out in living memory. The walls are there because mankind is not alone.
Within the forests and mountains roam hundreds of creatures, each one unique, each powerful enough to level a farmhouse and devour its owners before they’d have time to draw a weapon. These aren’t eldrich abominations. They are monsters, yes, but they are also as magnificent as they are terrible, imbued with the wild, untamable power of nature itself. Mankind would long ago have been destroyed by these creatures had it not been for the Wild Hunt.
The Wild Hunt are gods. They appear human, but stand twice the height of a man, have antlers of various shapes growing from their brows, ride steeds made of sunlight and moonlight, and live for nothing but the chase. They rarely interact with mankind, and seem more puzzled by their existence than anything else. Sometimes at night men can hear the unearthly sound of their horns, drifting over the Weald. Sometimes by day men find the site of their battles, soaked in the blood of gods and monsters.
That’s about it for now. One thing I like about this setting is that it immediately presents a number of questions.
Why are the gods on an eternal hunt?
What happens to the gods if they are slain?
What value might humanity place upon the blood or organs of a monster?
How were the old kingdoms lost? What secrets do they hold?
What is humanity doing in this world?
What kind of training is necessary to explore this world?
What are the cultures of the different cities like, and how do they answer the above questions?
Are there any gods who have taken an interest in humanity?
The Alexandrian posted a great article a few weeks back with a great piece of GM advice: Create lots of villains – develop the ones who survive.
This ends up solving a number of common RPG problems. It’s often tempting to make the villain invincible until the final battle in order to keep the story going, or to play up the evilness of a villain to a party that just doesn’t care much about him.
However, if you add a host of villains and let the heroes dispatch them where ever they can, you won’t get attached to them. You’ll keep player agency intact. Most importantly, as certain villains continue to survive, grow stronger, and really meddle with the player’s goals, their hatred of him will be natural and all the more satisfying.
There’s a connection here to Dungeon World concept of Fronts, but that’s another post.