Running the Game: The World

  1. Characters
  2. Running the Game

There is no default world setting for Gods & Monsters. This game is about the characters, and any generic quasi-medieval world will suffice. The World of Highland is a combination of the American west and medieval Europe of myth.

There are many pre-designed game worlds on the market that you can purchase, as well as many available on-line. You can use the worlds of any fantasy book series that you enjoy—just remember to keep the players’ characters in the forefront of the adventures.

You can also create your own world, basing it on the kinds of adventures you and your friends would like their characters to have.

The World: Concept

When creating your world, think about what sorts of things you want to go on in that world. What books, movies, or other works are your inspirations? If you were writing a movie based on this world, what would be your short description of the concept? For example, you might decide on a world of “worlds within worlds” similar to many of the writings that went on at the turn of the century and later.

The Dreamlands are inspired by the dream works of Lord Dunsany and H.P. Lovecraft, the works of Edgar Allan Poe and E.R. Eddison, J. M. Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy”, L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz”, Stephen King’s “The Stand” and his “Gunslinger” series, and the Super Mario video games. The Dreamlands are a place of riddles, secrets, hidden treasures, strange creatures, and worlds within worlds. The depths of the deepest dungeon may lead to new lands. Holding the right key may open doors you never knew existed, to places you never believed possible. A castle of ice overlooking a grand waterfall, cities that float in the air. The Dreamlands encompass every form of high fantasy, intense horror, and Byzantine politics. The Dreamlands lack only moderation.

Anything is possible, if you but know where to look.

The World: Conflict

There probably should be some major conflict going on in the world, which the players will, first, be pawns in, and, later, begin to take control of. This conflict might be a war, or it might be a tyrant, or it might be some byzantine politics, or anything else that the players might find interesting to “take sides” on. You shouldn’t settle for an overlying conflict immediately, but keep in mind that you’ll want one as the campaign progresses. You will also want to decide, eventually, how prevalent knowledge of this conflict is.

At the beginning of the campaign, the most important “conflict” for the other players will be their characters’ immediate survival. But as the campaign progresses, their characters will begin to take a wider view. Listen to what your friends say in-character about what they think is going on in the campaign world for some great ideas about what really is going on.

The Dreamlands are unraveling. Within the Dreamlands, the world is moving on to a more mundane reality. Lost cities, devoid of life, haunt the edges of some realms. Some realms have been lost, fallen forever into nightmare, the paths to their kingdoms now unknown. Others, at the frayed edges of the Dreamlands, have fallen apart and come back together in a mangle.

Different realms have different connections to the Dreamlands. Some realms far from the center of the Dreamlands may not even know of the reality of their existence, knowing of other realms only as murky legends of faerie rings or deep caverns to hell, or castles on the tops of clouds.

Most residents of the Dreamlands are not aware of the moving on of their lands, but they will have legends of heroic times, and heroes unmatched by the heroes of the present time—who, often enough, gain their heroism picking at the ruins of the earlier heroes and their battles and great cities.

The World: Magic

How common is magic? How common are sorcerors? Does every town have its hedge magician who sells cheap magic in exchange for a side of beef or a bushel of tomatoes? Or are sorcerors rare, powerful beings who hide away in remote towers, forever practicing their arcane arts away from any prying eyes?

Toward the center of the Dreamlands, magicians are common, great sorcerors rare. Magic is the ability to manipulate the malleable dreamworld itself. As one goes from the center to the edges of the Dreamlands, sorcerors become rare.

The Dreamlands may be viewed as a great world tree: on the leaves of the tree is the illusion of separate worlds. Here doorways and openings are required to pass from place to place. At the branches this illusion vanishes. No longer are portals necessary to pass from one world to another. Instead paths lead naturally from branch to branch.

Sorcerors, Prophets, and Psychics

In myth and legend, there isn’t much of a difference between sorcerous magic and divine magic, and psychic skills are mostly an invention of modern fantasy. Depending on the type of campaign you’re running, you may decide that three kinds of “magic” is too many. Normally, you would strike either psychics or sorcerors—playing Gods & Monsters without Gods, after all, would be a bit odd, although certainly fantasy literature abounds with priests who would best be modeled on the sorceror archetype. You might even decide to strike two and leave only one of the magical archetypes.

Moral codes

What do moral codes mean in your world? Are they part of the foundation of the world? What power do they have in the mortal world? Do they act through deities, or do they have their own messengers or lines of communication?

Some campaigns give everyone, down to the chimney sweeps and street urchins, moral codes. In others, moral codes are mostly invisible until the characters reach higher levels, where they begin to notice the strings behind the curtains, and later the hands holding the strings.

In some worlds there will be secret societies devoted to the furtherance of their moral codes, waiting to induct the appropriate heroes when those heroes have proved their worth. In others, the moral codes will be sources of power for those who follow their path. And in others the codes will be super-intelligent forces vying against each other.

Where to start playing?

Once you know the sort of world you want, you’ve got two ways of continuing. You can continue to describe the world from the top down, going from the ethos to the parts of the world (continents on an earth-like world), to the kingdoms, major cities and major players in those cities. Or, use a bottom-up approach. Create the place the characters will begin (probably a village or city), and then create the first adventure. Keep a list of possible future adventures as well, so that you can foreshadow them during this first adventure. If you have time, place this first village on a crude map so that you have an idea of what cities, villages, and landmarks are nearby.

If you plan to start the characters in lost dungeons, it often is easier to start them in small towns or villages at the edges of kingdoms. This makes it easier for them to reach the ruins outside of the kingdom. Later, the characters will journey to the great cities of the world. If, however, you plan to start the characters by involving them in Byzantine politics, you’ll probably want to start them in a metropolis that contains such politics. Later, they might also interest themselves in traveling to the once great ruins outside the kingdom’s borders.

How to end playing?

Gods & Monsters is designed for long-term play, but nothing lasts forever. While you don’t want to have a desired ending for the campaign—you’ll want to let the players choose their course through the world—it’s a good idea to have ideas about how the campaign could end if it had to. You might have ideas for an epic, multi-year adventure, but sometimes unforeseen circumstances dictate an end that comes sooner. It’ll help if you always keep ideas in mind for turning the next adventure into the climactic conclusion.

Whatever you choose, endings must be exciting, must build on what has already happened, and must leave the players knowing they’ve accomplished something.

How much detail?

Don’t describe the world in too much detail. Always stay just a few steps ahead of the player characters, so that you can mold the world to the kind of fantasy they enjoy. A couple of paragraphs on concept, conflict, and the supernatural will suffice to start. Your main concern is the first adventure, and your second concern is the town, city, or village the characters begin in. They’ll visit the rest of the world later, and by then you’ll know more about what it needs to contain.

When rolling dice, roll them where the players can see them, to help them get a feel for how difficult or how easy or how rare or how common events and actions are.

The World: Money

In the rules, all costs are in a single default monetary unit, the “silver coin”. In real life, of course, there are many currencies, and the characters will end up finding more than silver coins. You’ll need to decide what level of detail you want. The easiest is to have a standard coinage used everywhere. It might be a simple base-10 system:

Coin Worth
Silver Coin 1 silver coin
Gold Coin 10 silver coins
Bronze Coin .1 silver coins

Or, you can use a more medieval system with units in twelfths, halves, and sixteenths:

Coin Worth
Silver Coin 1 silver coin
Gold Coin 12 silver coins
Bronze Coin 1/16th silver coin
Half-bronze 1/32nd silver coin

Or, you can have different currencies in different areas, each with their own names.

Crosspoint mint:

Coin Image Metal Worth Bulk
Pound Ship and Sword gold 20 silver coins .06
Bishop’s Pound Bishop and Sword gold 240 silver coins .6
Shilling Ship and Sword silver 1 silver coin .06
Penny Cross and Sword silver 1/12th silver coin .01
Half-penny Cross and Fish silver 1/24th silver coin .01
Farthing Plus and Plus bronze 1/48th silver coin .04

Great Bend mint:

Coin Image Metal Worth Bulk
Great Pound Crown and Sword gold 120 silver coins .36
Mayoral Pound Scroll and Face gold 20 silver coins .06
Mayoral Shilling Face silver 1 silver coin .06
Mayoral Penny Crucifix silver 1/12th silver coin .01
Mayoral Farthing Fish bronze 1/48th silver coin .04
Sous Tournis Crown and Scepter gold 40 silver coins .1
Gros Tournis Crown and Cross silver 4 silver coins .1

There might be completely different coinage systems used in the past civilizations that the adventurers are looting. In general, money is worth less in countries outside of where it was made, from 10% to 50% less. Money from one or perhaps two influential trading countries may be worth more than local money, especially if the local economy is depressed.

Remember, however, that in a world where money is made from valuable metals, there is always a built-in support level. At some point it becomes worthwhile to melt the gold, silver, or bronze down and sell the metal. Of course, the metal’s value can vary as new mines are found or old ones peter out.

Because the metal in coins has worth, coins—especially gold and silver coins—run the risk of being “chipped” to remove slivers of metal. The slivers are melted down and sold, and the coin (the chiseler hopes) can still be used at face value. This is one of the reasons that modern coins often have reeded edges. The vertical grooves make it obvious if someone has removed parts of the edges of the coins.

Availability of equipment

You may decide to adjust the availability of some equipment. For example, if your fantasy world does not contain firearms (or only contains them in certain areas), characters in your world (or outside of those areas) will be unable to purchase them. The level of technology present in your world may also affect the availability and price of armor (especially the better plate armors).

You might also adjust availability or price of some equipment due to temporary concerns. During periods of war, especially naval war, hemp rope tends to become hard to find and be expensive when available. Substitutions will have to be made; for example, if hemp rope can’t be found, the characters may have to use lower quality jute rope. You will then have to decide the effects of the lower-quality substitute that the characters use.

In some cases, items may still be available on the black market but be illegal. Such items will only be available at higher prices and it may be dangerous for characters to be caught carrying such items.

Hamlets, villages, towns, and cities

In the kind of medieval-level populations envisioned in most fantasy games, any urban gathering of 10,000 or more people is a city, and any urban gathering of 1,000 or more people is a town. An area without that many people, but with at least ten houses, is a village; anything smaller that wants to call itself something is a hamlet.

Most urban gatherings are simple villages and hamlets, near a crossroads, a bend in the river, a useful plain, or a defensible point if the area is dangerous. The smaller hamlets might simply be a point where several farming properties abut. Villages aren’t going to have a regular market, unless the market is its reason for existing. They’ll have only one church. Hamlets won’t likely have any church. If they have any religious services at all, it will be a regular mission from a nearby city or town. More likely, however, the hamlet’s population will travel to the nearest village for services.

What makes a town or city is usually the presence of some industry or other draw. It might be a cathedral, making the city a religious center. Or it might be a port, making the city a trading center.

There may also be paperwork requirements for being a legal city or town.

Who lives there?

In any village of a hundred people, there are likely to be forty-two adults (age 16 and older), forty children (age 9 and younger), and eighteen kids who might also function as adults. More specifically:

age village (100) town (1,000) city (10,000)
infants (0-2) 16 160 1,600
young kids (3-9) 24 240 2,400
older kids (10-15) 18 180 1,800
young adults (16-24) 16 160 1,600
adults (25-39) 12 120 1,200
experienced adults (40-59) 10 100 1,000
elders (60-) 4 40 400

Wars, famine, and culture, of course, can modify these numbers.

Towns and cities will have more specialization in all of the adult ranges. An elder in a village is an elder, but an elder in a city is an elder in a guild or an elder statesman, for example. The carpenter in a village will do all sorts of carpentry; the city carpenter will specialize in furniture, wheels, stagecraft, or some other form of woodworking.

Villages won’t have a craftsman for every craft. The majority of adults in a village are likely farmers. A village will have only a few craftsmen, one to five, and most of them probably in related fields. Anyone needing other craftsmanship will travel to another village, to the market village if one exists, or go to town.

The marketplace

Everyone loves shopping. They’re willing to travel great distances for it. This means merchants can set up marketplaces and if they’re any good, expect people to come to them. Villages, not large enough to support a daily marketplace, might have a weekly or monthly market in a village square or outside the village. An area with several villages or hamlets might have a market area in some central location that everyone can easily reach. If successful, such a marketplace is likely to support its own village, and will probably even grow to a town, eclipsing the size of the villages it supports.

When marketplace days are rare, they’re likely to be special days. Sporting events, such as jousts, will draw visitors in to spend at the market.

Depending on local culture there may also be days when the marketplace is shut down for religious or legal reasons. There may also be rules relaxing some laws on special market days, such as an annual free market where craftsmen who are not part of a guild may legally sell their crafts.

Hamlets, villages, towns, and cities: The guild

In a village or hamlet, there’s probably only one person doing each of the important tasks that villagers need. As population grows, however, you end up with competing bakers, butchers, blacksmiths, and so on. Often, as competition threatened to cut into their profits, existing craftsmen would join together into a guild. The guild would pool money and influence together to lobby for a monopoly: a law saying that anyone wanting to take part in their trade must be a member of the guild. The guild could then limit the number of competitors in the town or city.

Because of their monopoly, guilds could become very wealthy, and many guilds in larger towns or cities will have ornate guildhalls for meetings and fraternal functions. Guilds will also have a symbiotic relationship with the local government, with guild money bankrolling politicians, and politicians passing guild-friendly laws.

Guilds guide their members starting with their apprenticeship. Apprenticeships often start when the apprentice is twelve to fifteen. From there, the apprentice becomes a journeyman, that is, a guildmember who is legally able to take jobs and be paid for their work. In larger towns, there may also be a master, and, in larger cities, grandmaster career stages. Such terms are only legally available to guild members.

Each guild is likely to have their own mark, which, if they make something tangible, they will stamp on each of their products to prove its provenance.

Guilds control product pricing, member wages, craft quality, and advertising.

In an area that supports guilds there is likely to be a guild for just about anything: actors, apothecaries, armorers, bakers, bankers, blacksmiths, brewers, chandlers, cobblers, carpenters, farriers, fletchers, goldsmiths, masons, merchants, musicians, plumbers, scribes, sculptors, shipwrights, vintners, and weavers.

If they think they can convince politicians to give them a monopoly, any group is likely to try to form a guild so that they can set prices and block competition.

The World: Weather

Special weather is an encounter. Choose appropriate weather for the adventure and locale, and place it in the Natural Encounters section of the area’s encounter chart.

If weather is a major part of an area’s flavor, such as sandstorms in deserts, make sure that kind of weather comes up often enough in the Natural Encounters breakout table, and that Natural Encounters itself happens often enough in the main table.

Other planes of existence

There are planes of existence beyond the physical plane that the characters inhabit. The most commonly used will likely be the astral and ethereal planes, but depending on the campaign there may be others, such as the planes of existence where the gods live, or the planes of existence where demons live.

These other planes can be another source of adventures, as knowledge not meant for man crosses over.

The astral plane

The astral plane is a spiritual plane. This is where ghosts walk and gods live. Such creatures can often break through to the physical world, especially through dreams.

Sorcerors can traverse the astral planes as well, with the right spells: clairvoyance, astral wall, and dream spells all affect the astral. Monks reach the astral plane through spirit travel. Prophets do so with spells like paths of the dead.

The ethereal plane

The ethereal plane is an extra dimension that crosses and binds the visible dimensions. Sometimes it is also known simply as the ether.

The ethereal plane may be used to travel long distances in short times, as with the teleport spells or angular path. It can also be used to temporarily drop out of the world, as with the lost corner and magic box spells.

Psychics who have Dimensional Science travel the ethereal plane.

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  1. Characters
  2. Running the Game