Vaalbasa

Settings

Before I go into classes, I should define a few characteristics of the setting. It’s a continent, roughly the size of Europe, but runs north/south, instead of east/west, roughly. Geography beyond that isn’t really important. I decided on the name Vaalbasa for the continent, and consequently the setting.

I’d like to set the world at the height of the Renaissance. Magic is rare, but known. There will likely be at least one school devoted to magic. There are two major powers in the world. The Holy Church of the Vaalicine, and the Trade Consortium.

The Holy Church
The church is the primary religion in the world, and has churches in nearly every major city in the world. All Clerics are members of the Church, as are the Inquisitors. The church isn’t the only religious power, however. The druids are a small minority, and exist mostly in the wilderness, or on the outskirts of society. Recently, a group has sprung up that disagrees with the Vaalicine interpretations. Known as the Heretics, they are a small but very vocal group. They are currently the primary target of the Inquisitors.

The Trade Consortium
The Consortium, as it’s more commonly known, is based in a group of city-states, but they have offices in nearly every port and major city across Vaalbasa. They are focused on trade, and their currency is the primary accepted form of payment in all civilized lands.

One of the recent philosophies concerning campaign settings is the “points of light” idea. Simply put, it means that the world is mostly dark, unexplored wilderness, with a few points of civilization interspersed throughout the world. In a Renaissance era campaign, this doesn’t really fit, but in the past I’ve adapted this to mean that the heroes are few and far between, and the darkness threatens to overwhelm the world. I’ve handled this a couple of ways, myself. I prefer non “good vs evil” campaigns, instead focusing on other options, like “law vs chaos” or “light vs shadow”. I’m not really sure what the primary “darkness” in this setting will be, however.

I’d be tempted to make the church the bad guys, making the game similar to the “Three Musketeers”, where the church is corrupt and evil, or possibly using the Consortium as the bad guys, making the game about overcoming corporate greed and corruption. However, both of these seem too easy, and I’d prefer to make it more realistic in that there are good, and evil people in both organizations. The problem is, that doesn’t really give a “Big Bad” kind of villian to stand against, just a lot of small ones. Unfortunately, I’m at a loss, here.

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Vaalbasa Races

I want to create a campaign world. Because I want to concentrate on the setting and story, I’ll be using the Pathfinder system, with a few tweaks. First, some inspiration.

I’ve always been fond of Forgotten Realms, with its Renaissance feel. It also makes use of “secret societies”, much like 7th Sea. I’d like to incorporate both of these aspects into the game.

First, I’d like to talk about the mechanical changes to Pathfinder that I’ll be making. The basic elements, of course, are classes and races. Classes are a bit more complicated, so I’ll start with Races.

Something that’s always bother me in D&D is the Half- races, namely, the half-orc and the half-elf. Granted, they’re both in Tolkien’s original stories, so they really can’t NOT be in D&D, and have been since its earliest incarnations. But, if you can have half-elves, why not half-dwarves? There’s never been a solid reason why, and there’s definitely been certain takes on the problem over the years. Even if you do tackle the problem, it just opens up a bigger can of worms. Why not half dwarf/half elf, for example.

In the past, I’ve handled the situation either by ignoring it altogether (when running a published world, like Forgotten Realms), or taken stricter restrictions for them, like making all half races infertile. However, here, I don’t think I want to get into the problem at all. The easiest way to handle the situation is that there will be no half races, at all. The DNA does not match up, and it is impossible to interbreed. There may be the possibility of magical intervention, but I’ll save that for another time.

Another important aspect of biology is that while life is diverse and varied, there can only be one “king of the mountain”, as it were. In a situation where 2 species are competing for the same resources, one will inevitably win, and wipe the other out. Consequently, having several “king of the mountain” races is absurd, especially when taken to the extreme, as in the Forgotten Realms. (off the top of my head, 3 dwarven subraces, 3 halfling subraces, a half dozen elven races, and so on, all occupying the same evolutionary rung on the great ladder of life.) Because of that, I want to have only a few races, and I want them to be unique. hobbits can’t be short humans, gnomes can’t be short elves. Elves can’t be thin humans who are good with bows.

In the core pathfinder rules, there are 5 non-half races: Human, Halfling, Elf, Dwarf, and Gnome. Of those, most can fit definite, solid roles. Humans, in my mind, are kings of technology and advancement. That doesn’t really fit the “biological king of the mountain” model, but I’ll come back to that, when I have a better idea. Halflings are the “everyman” race, and have been since the Hobbit first set them on that path. In my mind, they occupy the farmer type roles. Elves obviously belong in the forest. I like the idea that they are otherworldly fae. They control the forests and woods. Dwarves, likewise, occupy the mountains. That, of course, brings us to gnomes. Gnomes don’t really fit anywhere. sometimes, they’re portrayed as the industrious technological types, but here, that’s the humans. Sometimes, they’re shown as woodland creatures, but the elves fill that niche. Occasionally, they’re mountain-dwelling greedmongers, but in this case, that’s the Dwarves. And finally, sometimes they’re the fun loving, playful, everyman that goes beneath your notice, but here, that’s the halflings. There’s really no place that a gnome really is “King of the Mountain.” that’s probably why nobody ever really plays them. In this case, they’re right out.

Finally, There’s two things I want to add in. First, I once designed a swashbuckling game, and one of the ideas I included there was a seagoing race, based primarily on Vikings and Klingons. Racially, I used the Orcs as a model for this, and I think I’ll do that here, too. The Pathfinder system doesn’t exactly have an Orc PC race that I found during my quick look, but that’s ok. I’ll either find one, make one, or use something else. Right now, it’s the idea that’s important.

The second thing is something I read a long time ago about world building. “Always include at least one secret” the rule said. In this case, I’ll steal something else from my old swashbuckling game, which was the idea of a “creator race”. In that game, it was the Dragonborn, and they were still around, but as a broken reflection of what they once were. In this case, though, I think I’d like to keep it a mystery. They are known because of artifacts that remain from their time, but who they were and what they looked like, I’ll not worry about for now.

So, that leaves us with 5 races:
Human – Humans live primarily in cities and towns, and only rarely in smaller villages. They tend to lean towards industry and innovation, and many work as artists or sculptors.
Elf – Elves live primarily in the forests of the world, and tend to the trees, and to wild nature. They prefer solitude over great crowds, and tend to live in clan-based societies. Family is very important to them, and it is a great honor to be able to recite an elf’s lineage back to the “crossing”, when the elves arrived in this world. Most of these lineages go back 13 – 15 generations, and are traced through the mother’s family.
Halfling – Halfing’s occupy the plains and grasslands, and tend to be farmers and herders. They tend to live in villages, but never more than 500 or so halflings to a village. Halfling villages tend to be more of a convenient trading area, and once the population gets much beyond 500, it tends to fracture into two or more smaller villages. Trade is encouraged between villages, and of late, more and more halflings have begun trading with larger human cities as well.
Dwarf – Dwarves are at home in the mountains, and nearly always remain there. They live in large cities, sometimes numbering nearly four or five thousand, and have a very strict caste system.
Orc – Orcs are masters of the sea. Living primarily on archipelagos, they have little room for farming, so they tend to fish for as much as they can, and raid for the rest. They’re known to be violent, and quick to anger. However, honor is very important to them, and death is a very important aspect of their society because of this.

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