Friday, 18 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: The Setting

It's time to talk about the setting of my newest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign: On the Edge of Exile.


Now, it's already been established that the game is taking place in the Border Princes (the companion splat book being Renegade Crowns), but a) what does that mean, b) it's a big place, so where exactly, and c) why is it being set there? 

I'm going to leave the first point to other articles, because it'd be regurgitating a lot of the same. These two (1, 2) do a good job of explaining the majority of it, but here are some key points to remember:
  1. It's not a nation, but a frontier.
  2. The rulers hold little to know legitimacy, and are little more than thugs controlling small stretches of land through force.
  3. The land is mostly barren, arid, and brutal. Badlands, crags, scrub land, marshes, and thorns.
  4. Think Wild West meets the Balkans.
Let's dive in, shall we?

Where Exactly?

Let's have a look at the map:
See? It's big. We've got a lot to work with, here. Lots of terrain types, lots of points of interest, and lots of cool words to spark play.

For those who aren't Warhammer nuts, here's the wider map of the Old World, so you can get an idea for context:
And a quick guide (remember that all this is fake-Renaissance!):
  • The Empire (the place with Nordland, Middenland, Reikland, etc.) is based on Germany,
  • Kislev is based on Russia,
  • Bretonnia (the place with Bastonne, Quenelles, Carcassonne, etc.) is based on France/Arthurian England,
  • Estalia (the place with Obregon, Magritta, Cantonia, etc.) is based on Spain,
  • and Tilea (the place with Niragliano, Trantio, Remas, etc.) is based on Italy.
Cool, so we're south of the Empire and Bretonnia, and east of Tilea. To the south of the Border Princes is the Badlands, a horrible place infested with Greenskins, and to the south of that we have Nehekhara (fake Egypt) which is filled with undead, and to the west of THAT human lands begin again with Araby (*sigh*, I probably don't have to tell you what that is based on - sadly, much of the Warhammer lore is pretty racist, though I try my best to remove those parts and give them justice).

Ok, back to the Border Princes. Let's zoom in on the section I chose:
A valley dominated by the Blood River. Why this valley? Well, let's look at what's surrounding it!
  • Barak Varr is the largest city in the Border Princes, and is controlled by the Dwarves. It is the only port in the region, and super well defended. The Dwarves here jealously guard their stranglehold on the Black Gulf, and don't really care about the rest of the valley so long as ore keeps flowing in from the mountains.
  • The Old Silk Road is the longest road in the world, and goes all the way through the Worlds Edge Mountains, across the Dark Lands, to Cathay (*sigh*). It is a major trade route, where untold riches flow, and where lots of illegal things occur. Bandits, smuggling, extortion, and heretical magics traded.
  • The Iron Rock is a huge Greenskin stronghold held by the Iron Claw Orcs, which are (or were, at least) led by one of the most terrible Greenskin Warbosses of all time, Gorbad Ironclaw. This is a great, impenetrable, super dungeon, which I can use to cool effect.
  • The Black Crag is another Greenskin stronghold that used to be a Dwarf Hold. The Dwarves want it back, and it likely has lots of cool treasure in it sealed away from the Orcs. Even more fodder for adventure! Also, the Red Fang Tribe that controls it apparently hates the Iron Claw Orcs, so there's room for playing enemy factions off each other, and working for the Dwarves to help take back the Hold.
  • The Badlands are on the doorstep. That means we can use the very shittiest parts of the Border Princes terrain - all that useless arid land - as a set piece. This is the Wild West. People here have hard lives, and they can barely scratch a living out of the dust. The very land they travel through will be an enemy of the PCs!
This section of land is also 200km to a side, which, if the land was perfectly flat (which it isn't), and was easy to cross (which it isn't), it would take just under a week to traverse from side to side. That's PLENTY of room to work with!

So, I snipped this area out, and got to work. Here are the results, so far:
Pay no attention to the orange regional markers - that's a mechanical thing which I hope to write about later... The PCs will be controlling the terrible little hamlet of Dunkeldorf, and I added in four major towns controlled by four other Princes: Sumpfstadt, Montagne, Collina, and Seidenstopp.

...but WHY?

Well, that's a big question. There are many reasons.

The first is that, many years ago (over a decade ago, now), I began reading an Actual Play report on RPG.net called The Shadow of the Sun. Now, if you know this campaign, or you choose to go and read it (I encourage that, as it's awesome, but beware that it was never finished), you're going to see a lot of similar themes. Hell, the entire framework of the game has been adapted over to here. I loved that idea, and more than any other I've ever seen for a campaign, it has stuck with me.

Secondly, this is not the first time I have tried to run this campaign. Previously, I ran two sessions, many years ago, of what this campaign started out as before the group fell apart due to external reasons. (Well, actually severely internal reasons - I got cancer and had to go to hospital for nearly a year, but that's another story!) I then attempted to adapt this game to Dark Heresy 1st Edition a few years ago as a campaign called Into the Expanse, but my group weren't really keen on it, and frankly, it wouldn't have worked at the time. Now, it very well could work!

Third, the Border Princes are open. They are Warhammery, but they are undefined. I love defined settings to explore, but I chafe against them to run. I love the openness of Blades in the Dark, the suggestion of a setting. That's what Renegade Crowns gives you, and I find prepping for the Border Princes, and the mini-games it offers, almost as fun as running the damn game.

Fourth, and most of all, the Border Princes are perhaps the best place in the Warhammer world to talk about my favourite and most closely held theme within my games: anti-fascism. The Empire is a fascist state, if ever there was one, and in the Border Princes, you have the chance to work under that system, or go against it. Given the campaign question of On the Edge of Exile, it is a perfect proving ground.

I hope this gave you a bit more insight into why I chose the Border Princes for this campaign! Next up, I think I'll talk house rules and custom mechanics...