I created the Seven Kingdoms campaign largely based on the descriptions of the races from all the promo materials that were created leading up to the release of 4E. I intend to do much the same with D&D Next.
Since D&D Next has very fully fleshed out the backgrounds of four races (dwarf, elf, halfling, and human), I have decided to keep them as the four most populous races of my campaign setting…or at least in the area near the Borderlands. By reading the entries in the D&D Next rules, I can make some decisions about these races, and how they fit into the world.
The Human Touch
Thanks to The Lord of the Rings, most fantasy worlds I’m involved with are worlds belonging to the human race. The worlds of D&D are no different. As I’ve said elsewhere, the reason we don’t just abandon some of the concepts of the real world, such as humanity’s domination of the world, is because a world where the sky is red, north is east, and rain falls up can be so alien that the reader or gamer ceases to feel invested in it.
The humans described in the D&D Next playtest package are bold, adventurous, and dynamic. We know that they have many different cultures, looks, and beliefs. I love the idea that they get along with all other races but aren’t super-close with any one race. This can explain why they spread so far, as explorers and traders. It can also explain why other races have come to look to them to help solve problems, ease racial tensions, and the like.
I think what I’ll take from this is that humans have yet to have one great kingdom that has dominated the world. They have likely had many small kingdoms, in and around the great civilizations of other races, but no true great unified kingdom of their own.
Born of Stone
The first paragraph of the description of dwarves is incredibly evocative. It suggests that dwarves had mighty kingdoms, but that these have fallen to all manner of foes and are now the holdings of orcs and goblins. It’s a very Tolkien-esque view of dwarves, and I’m happy to embrace it.
We know dwarves are expert miners and craftsmen. It’s easy to imagine that they were overthrown by those who coveted their wealth. Perhaps dwarves once had a great kingdom that dominated in this region, and the other races largely bowed to them. But, eventually, those who find it easier to take rather than to create moved in, perhaps in a rare concerted effort, to destroy the guiding hand of dwarvenkind.
This suggests something of a possible background theme to the campaign. We have the idea of the Caves of Chaos threatening the Keep on the Borderlands in the module of the same name. The Caves are home to many different evils coming together and perhaps being held together by a higher power against their general nature. Did something similar happen to the dwarves? Something to consider!
I like the idea that there is no great dwarven kingdom any more. Perhaps there are a handful of strong enclaves left in the mountains, giving rise to the mountain dwarves, but they are few and far between, and I can imagine them being distrustful and xenophobic. I think hill dwarves will be the more outgoing dwarves who mingle more freely with the other races.
Children of the Wood
One thing I find fascinating about the description of the elves is the lack of description of any great elven kingdoms of old. This immediately makes me want to say that such kingdoms have never existed. Perhaps elves have always been secretive about their homelands, hiding them in the deepest woods, on pristine islands, and in starlit glades.
The two basic flavors of elf in Next are high elves and wood elves, corresponding roughly to Eladrin and Elves from 4E. I would like these two races to feel very different from one another, and one thing that strikes me is that elves can range from less than five feet in height to more than six feet. One way to suggest the differences is to have the high elves be the taller folk, and the wood elves the smaller. Maybe the wood elves are wilder and more passionate, and the high elves are a bit more aloof and detached. The wood elves might consider the high elves a bit pompous, while the high elves might consider the wood elves somewhat unrefined.
I find myself wondering what role elves have played in my world’s history. I’m thinking they have always been a little outside, acting as hidden guardians, occasionally stepping in to help those in need, then melting away. They would be quick to make friends, but they would be slow to fully trust others, because the forces of Chaos would love to find the hidden enclaves of the elves. The elven kingdoms would have their own lords and no central government, but they would always aid each other in times of need.
But Will They Wear Shoes?
There have been some very different views of halflings over the various editions of D&D, and D&D Next seems to imply there’s room for all of these views. Some halflings, we read, are stay-at-home hobbit types. Others are the gypsy-like freebooters of 3E and 4E. The description even suggests that some form cultures around caravans or on waterways, so they really are trying to make a home for all of these variations.
Halflings have never had a great kingdom, we can assume. They have survived the centuries by finding niches in and around other civilizations, or else remaining overlooked. They tend to venerate family over community, and this is largely how I’ve portrayed them in my 4E campaign, so this will be comfortable territory. One thing that’s new is calling out the idea that they’ve developed symbiotic relationships with other races. I can see humans and halflings having a very close relationship. Perhaps halflings have largely offered their services as farmers and craftsmen to the more ambitious humans. This quickly suggests that most human towns might have a halfling district. If I were the halflings, I would want to be right in the middle to get as much protection from those tall humans as possible.
The idea of the halflings being tied to travel suggests the idea of a halfling information network. If you want to pass information to as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, tell a halfling to spread the word. The word will spread by caravan, boat, and sheer gossip across the realm. I like this idea a lot, and it gives an immediate reason for those who are evil and those who are hiding secrets to dislike halflings.
Goodness! Only four races in, and we’ve come to the end of an article. Assuming that you have access to the D&D Next playtest package, I’m sure you can see where these ideas have evolved from. Of course, my previous games and the stories I’ve read will have some influence as well, and I’d be hard-pressed to divorce my love of Tolkien from what I’m coming up with.
Next time, I will look at the section on Unusual Races and come up with homes for the other races in my campaign, including drow, gnomes, half-orcs, and, yes, kender.