Champions of Ilea is a fantasy roleplaying campaign that I originally envisioned for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Since the system pretty much assumes that the players and their characters will spend most of their time kicking monster ass, I decided, in my very typical way, to fight back.
Note to anyone concerned with spoilers with the world or the plot: Here might be some.
The previous campaigns I had played were typical brainless D&D. The players wandered from encounter to encounter, fighting myriad of enemies. The combat is fun, but leaves little room for roleplaying. I always try to inject descriptions to the powers and attacks, but especially in the long fights, fatigue starts to settle in.
So this time I wanted something different. I wanted the system to just handle combat and not dominate the adventure itself. The first details for the campaign came from King’s Bounty – The Legend. The first time I played the game and did not know all the UI mechanics. I was exploring the countryside with my small army and taking in the view. And then I saw a dragon. Holy damn, it was huge and scary, perching on his nest inside some creature’s ribcage. For a few moments I rode in a circle and made some estimations. Did I have enough strength? How awesome is the monster? I thought about it and finally decided to attack the dragon, remembering that I had saved the game previously. I clicked on the dragon.
A dialogue menu popped up. The dragon said hello. I greeted it. We conversed for a while, I learned that since it was blue the other dragons did not like it and it gave me a quest.
It was a very enlightening moment. A moment I wished to replicate.
Ilea was modelled after the world of King’s Bounty. It is a world filled with all manner of creatures, all living their own lives. Mages and scientists advance the arcane sciences, nations mostly try to live and let live. No-one is inherently evil or inherently good. Everyone can be reasoned with.
Another goal I set for myself was to try out new GM techniques. My previous Star Wars campaign was quite linear and set to the plot. Every new location was there to serve my narrative goals. So this time I wanted to draw a huge world map and let the players set their own goals. One thing I recently found out was that this depends much on the players. In the first campaign, they constantly had some goal they had set themselves. The first one was to get a dread monster to safety halfway across the kingdom. I seeded the place with smaller quest hooks which then evolved into a grand plot (too late, I’m afraid).
I started with geography. I drew a rough continent with major oceans and waterways. When the sketch was finished I fired up Hexographer, a hex-map editor. I read one map drawing guide from the Escapist and set to work defining the areas around Ilea, the continent’s largest kingdom. The continent, called the lands of the Coalition, consists of typical fantasy areas without realistic geographic features. There is a small sea at the center of the land called Saladrin Sea. Most of the civilized nations are centered around the sea. There is a huge elven forest, another huge siberian-influenced forest, two huge mountain regions, lots of plains and dots of marshes. Farther away to the south are some deserts and jungles, and there is an extremely cold shoreline to the north.
The history was next. I had envisioned a backstory for an old video game concept which I reused in Ilea. Long ago, a great coalition of civilized races ruled the world in peace. Then one day dread beasts that would later be known as Dragons came from another dimension via means unknown. This event was followed by a great war known as The Day of the Dragons. The Coalition lost the war, scattering the remnants of the races across the continent. The dragons established their own territories, from which they hunted with impunity. But across the years the survivors slowly started to spread. Every few generations the mightiest armies of the people of the Coalition would attack their local dragon, slaying the beast and freeing the land. Eventually new nations would be formed in the ashes of the Coalition, with people fighting dragons, monsters and each other for living space. And now the dragons remain a threat to only the most remote settlements.
I am not certain if I subconsciously stole the relationship with magic from anywhere specific. Magic is deeply ingrained with the world’s physics, with arcane energy being predictable enough to be studied and forged into spells. But since residual arcane energy is easy to spot with the right techniques and tends to attract magical creatures, arcane studies have always been quite dangerous. The mages of the world found out this the hard way, as the dragons homed in to the practically glowing magical guilds and congregations, using their supernatural ability to resist arcane energies to kill them. From those ages on, most people who practice arcane arts are travelling the world, selling their services, passing their knowledge to one or two apprentices at any time. Most research is done in universities where conventional researchers and scientists debate and theorize the logics behind the world. Actual mages are hired to do actual spellcasting.
Damn this is going to take a while. I’ll have to split the intro to the world into several parts.