The Age of Ruins campaign began in December 2011, although with our monthly (at best) schedule, that doesn’t amount to a ton of sessions thus far. Previously I had been running an Iron Kingdoms military campaign, also using the the Savage Worlds rules. Though we were all generally enjoying the campaign (and had enjoyed IK campaigns in the past), I had a sense that a deep investment in the setting was lacking for many of the players. So I put it to a vote — continue with the IK campaign or begin a new campaign in a fantasy world created by the whole group. The vote was unanimous in favor of the latter.
I had been wanting to try both Microscope and Dawn of Worlds (DoW) for some time, so I was very excited by the decision as well. I ultimately decided DoW was going to be better for a first crack at such a project due primarily to its linear design and more traditional “game-ish” aspect of dice rolling. I did, however, steal the concept of the Palette from Microscope and integrate it at the beginning of our world building, as well as laying out four broad types of fantasy that we could use as a baseline. I defined these as:
- High Fantasy (Tolkien; generic D&D in later editions)
- Gritty Fantasy (Game of Thrones)
- Pulp Fantasy (Conan stories; generic D&D in early editions)
- Weird Fantasy (Planescape; The Dark Tower; anything really out there)
We decided that our baseline would be High Fantasy, but some aspects of the Palette somewhat altered the standard assumptions of gaming in such a world. For example, I added that there would be no “flashy” direct-damage dealing spells. However, we also decided that elaborate rituals would be part of the world, and some of the rituals I’ve created do allow for characters to wreak havoc, albeit with serious side effects and a great personal risk.
Completing the process of moving through the three Ages of DoW took us about two and a half play sessions; we rounded out the third session with character creation. We did discover some quirks in the game we had to tweak. After the first session we all realized our map was a bit geographically bare, even though we had moved into the Second Age. Part of this was due to the scale we were working at — we were using the hex side of a standard battlemat with 1 hex equaling 100 miles — but part of it was due to players wanting to spend their points on something “cooler” than just creating some mountains or forests. To try and remedy this, we kicked off the second session with three rounds during which everyone got maximum points to spend, but those points could only be spent on geographic or climatic features. However, it would ultimately turn out that the most defining feature of the setting would emerge during the last 4 or 5 turns of the Third of Age of D0W, which represent the last few decades before the campaign begins.
The first major ruin came about in the southern half of the map, when an arcane catastrophe destroyed the city of Ar’Ak-Ivus and killed or mutated everyone residing therein. But the setting really earned its flavor when a great army was formed from an alliance of nature-worshiping races — the Elves and the Children of Iso Kharu. This army set forth on a decade-long assault on the great cities of the Men of the North; its goal was not conquest, but destruction. Nearly every major northern city east of the great swamp was sacked and razed by the decade’s end, leaving thousands of miles inhabited only by small, isolated communities and vast ruins.
The actual campaign begins roughly 30 years after the end of this war, when these ruins have had plenty of time to be resettled by a slightly more monstrous populace. While the players who brought most of this about were just following the natural narrative of the races they had created, I am sort of fascinated that we unconsciously ended up creating something so similar in spirit to what Chris Kutalik would describe as the post-apocalyptic default setting of classic D&D.