Today, after linking to my blog on Facebook, I went back and re-read the series of posts from 2017 about my homebrew setting, Neuith.
It’s no surprise I’ve made some changes since then, but what is surprising is how much in some areas yet how little in others. Since those were written, the first two groups that ran through my setting completed their campaigns and stories. The wand was destroyed, and the big-bad-evil-guys were defeated. One group finished around level 13 and the other group finished around level 11.
Due to reasons, I ran the two groups concurrently. I maintained a spreadsheet that tracked time and events, where each group was, and what the various NPCs were doing. It was a huge hassle, but educational. The two parties stayed apart from each other most of the time, as they were pursuing different quests and storylines. Twice, though, they met up, so the characters could interact. Since I couldn’t get the two groups to meet in real life, we were forced to conduct the meetings via email. It didn’t help that due to life circumstances, one of the groups didn’t meet for almost three months.
We got through it, though.
Presently, I’m running two groups again, but this time, the groups are not concurrent. They are both following the same basic story arc from the beginning. In game terms, one group is about 15 months and 6 levels ahead of the other. Since the completion of the first two groups, and spending time last fall researching an idea for a new RPG system. I added detail and made numerous corrections to Neuith, most of which I’ve incorporated into the D&D 5e campaigns.
Let’s go over some of the more significant changes. First, clarifications and corrections for the witches:
Cithara: Her curse is that those she loves will always be in conflict. It’s less severe than my original vision. This refinement makes her a more useful and playable character. She wants to help the PCs to prevent a war, but she knows that she can’t become emotionally attached to them in any way, for if she does, they will inevitably splinter. Also, Cithara is not the oldest of all the witches. She is the third oldest.
Syreni: Her curse is clarified that she gains the ability to help someone she cares about too late. The question for how she was able to help Isabel defeat the Elf Knight is raised. The answer is that Isabel is the 8th victim. Syreni was unable to help the 7th victim because she was too late. However, once she gained the ability and knowledge, she was able to pass on the knowledge to Isabel.
Regina: Is the second oldest of the witches.
Procella: Is the oldest of the witches and is commonly referred to as the “First Witch.” She was the little girl who held the wand when the great curse was created. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but her curse isn’t that she can’t trust anyone. It’s much greater. When the connection between the gods and their worshipers was severed, the power became Procella’s. This means that she, alone, is the source of all divine magic in Neuith. However, while she has the power of the gods, and receives the energy from their worship, she doesn’t see herself as a god, nor does she desire the power and responsibility. For thirty-five hundred years she has struggled with this. For a time, she reveled in the power, but that was short-lived. There are some lasting effects, but presently, she remains isolated and tries her best to stay out of the affairs of mortals. One of the lasting effects is the boon that all female casters receives upon maturity – they are immortal.
Pedora: Her curse is clarified. The man she loved and who rejected her is terminally ill and under the Pedora’s care. However, he won’t die.
Next, I want to discuss some new characters, which are powerful NPCs that have impact on the world.
Grizel Nelchi: She is the “Forgotten Witch.” The creation of this character fills a need in the setting that I couldn’t capture with any of the existing witches. Living in a tower in the middle of a forest, she is the creator of many of the cursed magical items that seem so prevalent throughout the world. She’s forced into isolation because of her curse. At one point, she wanted to be famous and important. Her curse is that within a few days of meeting her, all memory of her is forgotten. She remembers everything, of course. This isolation allows her to visit a city, sell her malicious magic items, use the money for supplies, and leave. By the time people discover that her wares are cursed, she’s gone and forgotten.
Delagardenia Nfewny: Another character created for expediency. However, in her case, she’s left a long, memorable legacy after her own demise. She built the famed “Clockwork Dungeon” that lies beneath the Gnome city, Thiapne, in Pziakland. Even though she’s dead, her likeness and personality lives on through illusion.
Mora Ossinara: Also known as the Wintersmith, she is the primary nemesis for the characters. She’s one of the BBEGs. Mora’s story is that she’s a distant descendant of Procella, and through her adventures, she learned the truth about her ancestor. She also believes that if Procella dies, her abilities would be passed on to a blood heir that meets the necessary qualifications – female and arcane. Unknown to the players, she already killed all other potential candidates. To the best of Mora’s knowledge, she is the only living female caster in Procella’s bloodline. Knowing the nature of the wand, she wants to stay away because its curse would be devastating to her goals. However, she’s certain that if the wand were destroyed, Procella would lose her powers and Mora’s goal would also be lost.
Damaceus Akmenos and Zagir Fangfurrow: These are listed together because they, as a team, are the other major BBEGs in Neuith. Damaceus is a powerful caster while Zagir is a high-level fighter. They were imprisoned together in Fellandria and escaped some time before the beginning of the campaign. It’s common trope that metallic and chromatic dragonborn fight against each other, and this serves as a foundational backstory for all dragonborn characters. At some point, Cithara, posing as Takhisis (the human form of Tiamat), tried to unite the dragonborn and end their war. This almost worked until Damaceus and Zagir entered the scene. Using a magical form of enslavement, they united the dragonborn to create an army and have slowly taken control of the four dragonborn countries. At the time the campaign starts, they are in the process of assembling on the border of the elven and human nations to the far west, preparing for an invasion. Their motivations are less specific than Mora’s, but it’s mostly focused on revenge and accumulating power.
The purpose of writing this blog article is two-fold. The first is to address some of the corrections made for those who have interest in my setting. I would prefer my players didn’t read these articles as they contain spoilers, but even if they do, it’s not a show-stopper.
The other reason, which I think is more important, is to illustrate that a homebrew setting isn’t static. I’m of the opinion that when I create a homebrew setting, I don’t plan to use it just once. Whether I plan to publish it is irrelevant.
I’m presently running my third and fourth groups through my setting. I wrote seventeen chapters of a novel based on the setting (and yes, I do plan to finish it!), and if I decide to publish my new RPG game, it will also be based on this setting. When groups three and four are done, I’ll start new groups in the same setting, starting with the same adventure, the Heir of Linne, and they’ll face the same challenges and villains.
However, with each run-through, the setting evolves. Each player is encouraged to write a backstory for their character. Sometimes it’s a challenge to work the story into the overall narrative, especially when the players are writing their ideas without full, conversant knowledge of my world. For example, one player in group four has a lot of Forgotten Realms knowledge. I, however, have never read those books nor used those resources. At times it’s been a diplomatic challenge, but I’ve had to weave the backstory for his dragonborn paladin, who claims to be the offspring of Bahamut, into my setting. In my setting Bahamut has been trapped in a pocket universe for about fifteen hundred years.
I believe this is the difference between a homebrew setting and a published setting. As the designer, I have the flexibility and the freedom to change things.
Don’t get me wrong. I must do this responsibly. If I tell something to players in an early session, it’s probably a bad idea to tell them something different later. Unless I can do it in a way that makes sense. “Oh, that person told you XYZ? They lied. It’s actually ABC.”
Something that I’ve had fun with is using backstories from characters in prior run-throughs to add flavor to the current groups. Not just using their backstories, but in a couple cases, I’ve used the character. For example, in the city where the adventure begins, Hiltmar, Avensaria, one of the characters in group three wanted to go off and do “roguish” things. Being dragonborn, she wasn’t particularly good at it, and was pulled aside by another dragonborn and given advice. The NPC, Gilfoyle Starr, was a PC in group one.
When group four was skulking through the sewers of Linne, they came to an intersection. Leaning against the wall on one of the passages was a half-elf who told the party that what they were looking for wasn’t down this specific hallway. This NPC, Peren, was the half-elf rogue in group one. He was on sentry duty guarding the entrance to the thieves’ guild.
Everyone who goes through Burmore, Antarrow, will learn of the famed master leatherworker, Willem Wormley. With the right motivation, he’ll make masterwork leather armor for those who request it. This NPC would never have existed were it not for the player character, Agnes Wormley.
A frequent problem, not just with homebrew settings, but with many published settings, is the lack of flavor. Even with the published settings, do DMs have time and motivation to read all the material, let alone remember it? The advantage of your own homebrew is that you have control of it. You can add depth without the risk of screwing up the main story arc or some other facet of the campaign. And if you do make a mistake, you can adjust things later as necessary.
In group three, one of the players wanted to end her character’s story and start a new character. The player loves foxes and wanted to create a fox-human hybrid. I was resistant to the idea, but after some negotiation, I allowed it. Since the world is my homebrew, I located an island on the map that only has a name. To this point, there was nothing associated with it. Now, this island is the home of this small population of fox-human hybrids, and this character is only the second member of this race to leave the island in recent history. Her motivation for leaving is to find the other, and in the process, she got swept up into the campaign and joined the adventuring party.
Flexibility is the key. With homebrew, you can accommodate almost anything your players want. Keep it balanced and within reason, of course. It’s not as easy to do with published settings. Yes, building a homebrew takes work. A good memory and the ability to take notes is helpful. One thing that will never happen, though, is your players won’t know more about the setting than you. Enjoy the process. If you don’t, it won’t be rewarding. If you do, the rewards will be much more than you’d ever expect. They have been for me.