mysteries of the clouded lands

In a previous post, I talked about two awesome TSR campaign settings that never got their own boxed set. 1) Jeff Grubb came up with a world of perpetual cloud where the forces of good had been pushed up to sunny mountain peaks, and cloud ships plied between the mountaintops. 2) Wayne Rossi has pointed out that the implied world of the OD&D books is actually not like any published setting, ever, and has reconstructed a bizarre and wild land of dinosaurs, cavemen, and flying Arthurian knights.

I propose that these two settings be combined, and that it all happen on the classic map from Wilderness Survival: Jeff Grubb’s “forces of good” live in the few hexes of mountain peaks, and the cloudy lowlands are overrun with OD&D Gygaxian weirdness.

These ideas together don’t constitute a full campaign setting. There are a lot of mysteries for us to solve. There were a lot of good suggestions in the comments last time; let’s tackle some new questions.

where do the clouds come from?

I have no idea. The only thing that I’m sure of is that the cloud layer rises a little higher every year, maybe as little as a foot. That gives the mountain peaks a nice doomed Atlantis feel. I like to think that the sages of some mountain peak, preparing for the worst, are building a Babel-like tower on the top of the highest mountain.

The adventurers may well be trying to halt or delay the advance of the clouds. In that case, the source of the clouds determines the kind of adventures the PCs will embark on. If we want to run a megadungeon campaign, the mists are rising up from some unknown source at the bottoms of the dungeons. If we want a mass combat campaign, then the mist is somehow generated by warlords in castles. Maybe the warlords have magic gates to a smoky dimension of fire mercenaries, or maybe the clouds are created by supernatural evil itself.

Or the source of the clouds could be a mystery, or an unexplained given in the campaign world. What do you think?

who lives outside the cities?

In this old post from Swords of Minaria, Evan notices that “The original world, tucked away and hidden in the white box, is one of fierce nomadic bands of humans and humanoids that scour the badlands.” Furthermore, based on the size of the Wilderness Survival map, he calculates that

By terrain type and encounter odds, this indicates the whole map contains an average of 44 large hordes of men and 41 small parties of heroes. Of the hordes, about 17 are bandits, 12 brigands, 7 nomads, 6 berserkers, 2 dervishes, 2 cavemen, 1 buccaneer and 1 group of river pirates. The heroic parties are equal numbers of fighting-men, clerics and magic-users with an average of 8 individuals per party. All told, this indicates there are 7,588 men roaming the countryside.

The wilderness is home to 7,500 human warriors! Whether the settled areas of the Wilderness Survival map are the towns (as in OD&D) or the mountain peaks (as in the Jeff Grubb-inspired setting), the civilized folks probably have far fewer soldiers than that.

It strikes me that, while OD&D presents the world as a battle between Law and Chaos, and Steve Winter mentioned good vs. evil in his cloud-world pitch, this setting is really about farming folk vs. nomads. In this case, the good/lawful guys are the farmers, and they’re losing. The PCs are armed, wandering war bands defending civilization – Seven Samurai fighting their own kind to protect farmers.

What’s up with all the nomads? Are they predominantly evil? Warlike but essentially neutral transhumant pastoralists, escorting their cattle from one grazing land to another? Noble barbarians? A mix? What kind of animals do they herd, and, in this world of dire and flying monsters, what do they ride?

What’s up with the bandits and brigands, two groups which form 2/3 of the wandering bands? Can their numbers possibly be supported by the smaller population of herders and farmers? How do they live? Or are they slowly starving? These questions are relevant for any OD&D White Box campaign, not just a White Box-sky pirates mashup.

8 Responses to “mysteries of the clouded lands”

  1. CommanderCrud says:

    What if the mist was the same mist that surrounds Ravenloft. The OD&D setting could be slowly transforming into that cursed realm.

  2. paul paul says:

    That makes a lot of sense. Based on the OD&D encounter charts, there are a lot of undead in the cities.

  3. Anne says:

    Jeff Grubb’s setting did get a write up in Malhavoc Press’s “Beyond Countless Doorways.” Obviously they went a different direction with it there than you are here, but you could take a look at it.

  4. polop says:

    I had been thinking of using the clouds situation as my next fantasy setting, and the clouds were going to be completely mental. If all goes as planned a PC will have a nonfantasy character transported to the fantasy realm. A realm where sanity is not a common thing. the cities above the clouds are less crazy because they believe they are, and that;s what matters.

    course I’ll feed all the misinformation to the players. certain food is good, above the clouds is safe, you can’t be below cloud level for more than 9 days… ect, all the things they’ve made u[ to keep themselves “sane”

  5. CommanderCrud says:

    Mist exposure causes sanity loss? Cool! How did you plan to track sanity? Something like the Call of Cthulhu RPG?

  6. polop says:

    ideally with the “rules” in place I shouldn’t need to bother tracking anything but days since they left a “town”. Was thinking of actually making a system to track sanity loss but decided against it, it’s still a fantasy setting so there will be plenty of time for horrors from beyond, cultists and undead.

    I’m thinking of making the PC that comes from the non fantasy setting immune to the madness, but then I’d just be having to describe everything twice.

  7. Eodrid says:

    I really love this idea and am going to pitch it to some people interested in gaming. Jeff Rients had a blog post about dungeons that were basically just chaos rifts that I think would work for “where do the clouds come from?”
    Also, I’ll probably borrow some ideas from Ravenloft’s mists to add to this.

  8. Thriftomancer says:

    A little late to the party, but how’s this:

    The clouds are a defense mechanism of an invasive, magical plant/mold/fungus (probably the result of an evil or short-sighted someone’s mystic experiments and not a Color Out of Space type blight) that cause madness and hallucinations in intelligent creatures (good idea polop!).

    It appeared and started spreading, so people evacuated to higher ground and left behind troops outfitted with mystic biohazard suit equivalents and methods of destroying the plants (livestock, fire, herbicides, etc) in hopes they could eradicate the stuff and reclaim the surface.

    It worked for a while, but widespread equipment malfunctions caused the efforts to fail and stranded most of the world’s military might under the mists where they went mad, but survived as wandering populations with no recollection of their original purpose. People exposed to the mists build a resistance after the initial bouts of crazy, but never regain lost memories.

    The diversity in the wandering bands (like the buccaneers and dervishes) is because the civilians who fled to insufficiently high ground got caught in the mists as they rose.

    The bandits and brigands support themselves by preying on the other groups of nomads, not the common folk living on the mountains. They’re higher level/more dangerous than your average raiders. Whether they’re slightly deranged Robin Hoods from below the cloud line or mercenary groups from the mountain strongholds who have mist-exclusion gear is up to you.

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