March 18, 2011

Birthright the Setting

I have long said that Birthright is one of my favorite D&D settings. However, as time has gone by and I’ve thought about it more, I have come to realize I am less enamored with the setting (Cerilia) than with the mechanics of the setting.

The fluff of the setting, that which is the story behind the setting, is fairly generic. It has its Medieval European style kingdoms at the center of the setting and on the fringes there are the esoteric cultures, such as the Norsemen and Arabian mythos. This is very similar to many other campaigns settings out at that time. There are some minor changes to the setting (Blooded, Shadow World, racial differences) but at its core it was a fairly generic fantasy setting.

Perhaps the fact that the Birthright setting is like every other fantasy setting that had come before it was intentional. The setting is less about the story and more about the mechanics of the setting; the ability to manipulate the game setting. Perhaps the designers wanted something “comfortable” and familiar. Perhaps they wanted the mechanics of Domain control to be at the forefront of the setting, the complex part of the setting as opposed to the setting itself.

As a setting it is not a bad setting and is actually fairly strong as settings go, but it is not distinctive enough to set it above other similar settings. So, why do I claim Birthright as one of my favorites? It is because of a couple of other components Birthright brought to the gaming table that other settings did not.

Domain Play
I love the fact a character is the head of a wide ranging organization. This style of play has always fascinated me and I actually liked the way it was done in Birthright. However, Domain play does not require the setting Birthright came with. The rules can be easily moved to other, stronger settings.

Epic Monsters
Birthright is populated with aberrant and monstrous kingdoms that are on power equal to or slightly greater than those around them. They are readily acceptable enemies that the player characters can do battle with while keeping a clear conscious. They were the Cylons of the campaign. A player could make war without feeling a measure of guilt for killing them, after all, they were only monsters. Again, the concept of Epic Monsters can easily be carried over to a new setting, one outside of Birthright.

Would I like to see Birthright as the next remake of a setting for 4E? Yes and no. The setting material on Cerilia, while nice, is not enough for me. I would want something that felt unique, different from the other settings out there. Perhaps they could keep the basic material of Cerilia, while changing some of the material to make it more distinctive. Add a new race or two. Add a new power source. Add

However, I would like to see the Domain rules used somewhere, something other than Eberron and Forgotten Realms. If they can not make Cerilia unique by itself, perhaps they could update and transform another established setting. While Greyhawk is also fairly generic, a fusion between Birthright mechanics and the Greyhawk setting would be of interest. Or perhaps Planescape could bring the focus of planar warfare to a new level of game play. Or they could go in a completely new direction wherein the Domain rules are used in a low-magic setting.

There are a lot of options for a future Birthright game that does not need the original setting. It could keep the core concepts of what truly made Birthright unique, Domain level play, and bring it to a more “modern” game system.

2 comments:

seaofstarsrpg said...

I can certainly take of leave Cerilia, it was a perfectly fine setting but, as you say, nothing exceptional. But the idea of domain level play remains very exciting to me as I love to build things in game and leave my mark on the campaign world.

T.W.Wombat said...

Hear, hear!

Playing at the domain level appeals to me. I playtested something in this vein at PAX East - It's a fun card-based setting development system called Inheritance put together by @gamefiend. It's more storytelling focused and much looser than Birthright proper, with the cards providing ideas that get fleshed out with the other players at the table.

It's not Birthright, but it's a step in the right direction.

I keep toying with domain rules myself. Maybe I can finally get something on paper that works with 4e this year.

So many projects, so little time.