November 15, 2011

Nine Hallmarks

With one of the latest WotC setting books, Neverwinter Campaign Setting, they included Nine Hallmarks of a Neverwinter Campaign in the Introduction. Basically this is nine points that define the campaign setting and help make it unique. To be honest, some of the points can be seen in many other settings, such as Myriad Possibilities, but they do help keep in mind the theme and direction of the setting. This helps a person who wants to run a Neverwinter campaign remember the important things that make up the core of the setting. They did the same thing with the Darksun Campaign Setting book.

I like the concept of the Hallmarks of a campaign. A list of core concepts that help define a setting. In fact, this could be applied to game systems as well. Basically a list of the things that make the campaign or system unique. They can include unique setting concepts or how the rules interact with the setting.

I also like the fact there are only nine points. This helps to crystallize the most important things about the setting/system. Many settings have more than nine unique points but by limiting the number to nine it helps to narrow down the most important points. As a side point to this, if a person is designing a new setting/game system and they can not come up with Nine Hallmarks, perhaps their setting/system is not strong enough to stand on its own.

Why bother with making a list of Nine Hallmarks? To have a handy reference as to what is important within the setting so a person does not lose sight of them. For instance, if Low-Powered Horror is one of your Hallmarks and you are thinking about adding a Ring of Wishes to your newest adventure “because it would be cool” you can stop yourself cold, since it would not fit into your Hallmarks and the theme of your campaign. Hallmarks are ways to remain consistent with the theme of your campaign.

I have written up a couple of examples of Nine Hallmarks, just to see how they apply to what I already know. I chose to do one on the game setting/system of Shadowrun and then one on my own D&D campaign, Farstead. Your Hallmarks may vary but here are mine.

Nine Hallmarks of Shadowrun

1. Cyberware
Not only is cyberware a major component of certain characters, but it is also prevalent in the setting overall. Many adventures are based around cyberware technology. Many NPCs are seen to be using cyberware. Cyberware is part of the fabric of the society.

2. Fantasy
Magic and elves and orcs are to be found everywhere. Many of the tropes of fantasy exist, such as elves being enigmatic, orcs as trouble makers, the abundance of monsters and swords can kill as easily as any other weapon.

3. Dystopian Society
The overall society is dark and grim. The world is a hard place to live in. There is no safe place unless the characters make it for themselves.

4. Characters as Criminals
Much of what the characters do can be considered criminal. The characters do not go to the police to resolve problems. Either because the police are not to be trusted or are not up to the task or the task is blatantly illegal, the “rightful” authorities are to be avoided or even attacked.

5. Characters are Competent
Characters are not “low level” beginners. They are assumed to be experienced protagonists within the society. They start far above a “normal” person in so far as their abilities are concerned.

6. A World Similar to Our Own
While there are a lot of changes, at its core the world is similar to our own. The country names are the same, if not their configurations. Players have a familiarity with the world setting without ever having to have read any of the rulebooks.

7. Money is Important
The almighty nuyen is a driving force for adventure design and character progression. Instead of being an abstract or afterthought, money is integral to the system and world setting.

8. The Characters are Low Society
Everything the characters do is a part of low society. Their adventures take place in the dregs of society; the only time their adventures take place in high society is when they are there to shoot it up. Their contacts are part of low society. Even if a character has taken the right backgrounds to allow him to be considered a member of high society, it is a place wherein they go to get away from what they do every day. If ever a character has earned enough money and clout to become a member of high society, he retires from the campaign.

9. Min-Maxing is Expected
Characters are expected to be carefully crafted to provide the optimal builds for whatever their function is within the group. Min-maxing is not a stigma but rather a requirement.

Nine Hallmarks of the Farstead Campaign

1. Sandbox/Hexcrawl
The characters are exploring a new world wherein they move from land hex to land hex, mapping as they go along. The central focus is the land hex as this is the primary means by which the characters explore and interact with the world. Likewise encounters are already in place and not dictated by character level; it is possible to run into an encounter far above the character level.

2. Exploration
The characters are here to explore a new world. The core premise is that they are being paid to map out the new world and relay back information on anything they find. They have an impetus to go out and explore.

3. Limited Resources
They are in a frontier setting wherein there are no resources other than what they find. There are no magic shops they can visit in between adventures, no way to easily replenish spent gear, no one with a Raise Dead ritual.

4. Ancient War
Long ago this land was the site of an ongoing battle between an empire of snake-men and chaos gods. The snake-men withdrew and now the chaos gods are slumbering. The land is filled with evidence of these two cultures.

5. Alien Races
This is not to say there are aliens from outer space, but rather that there are no humans, dragonborn, elves, dwarves or any of the “standard” races to be found on this new continent. The races consist of snake-men, lizard-type races and chaos beings. There are no orcs, but that role has been filled by a former slave race of ape-men.

6. Growth Dictated by the Characters
As the players level up, their frontier settlement will grow as well, eventually providing them with resources. In addition, whatever other growth of the settlement occurs will be player driven. Will they befriend the ape-men or create a mortal enemy of the settlement? Will they incorporate any ruins they discover into the settlement? Will they establish roads between locations? How the settlement fares and expands is up to the characters.

7. Lots of Stuff
Each land hex (about 25 miles square) has a minimum number of unique and interesting things for the players to interact with, including at least one ruin/combat encounter. There are no land hexes with nothing in them.

8. Adventure Companies
The world setting makes use of Adventure Companies as official government-sanctioned groups. The characters are one of such Companies which serves to provide group cohesion and easy integration of new characters.

9. All the Rules are Legal
If a feat, class ability, ritual can be found in an official, DDI-enabled 4E book then the players can make use of it. Even other 4E resources can be included with forewarning. Nothing is disallowed in character development.

What Nine Hallmarks would define your own campaign setting? What Nine Hallmarks would you use to define another game system/setting such as Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, or World of Darkness? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments or on your own blog.


Niccodaemus said...

This is a great topic. I've created the Shatterworld setting to have a specific feel.

Lets see if I can distill it down to 9 Hallmarks

1) The campaign world is set 1300 years after an apocalyptic event, creating numerous ancient ruins that dot the landscape

2) The feudal system has been replaced with a mercantile system, making nearly everyone and everything "for hire"

3) Non humans are a remarkable sight. Any non human (demi-human, humanoid) creature tends to live in remote isolation.

4) Magic is rare and exceptional. The sight of someone casting a magic spell would be at the very least, a spectacle. People would likely flee in terror.

5) Most people have never seen a "monster" in their life, but their parents or grandparents may have.

6) There are surrounding lands across the seas that are home to the more traditional interpretation of D&D races

7) Political conflicts are settled via civil lawsuits more often than by armed conflict.

8) There is a density of geography that allows for exotic adventures to be around most every corner

9) The "Gods" are element based, rather than "alignment" or "goal" based.


Callin said...

wow Niccodaemus, you really get a feel for your campaign setting from those 9 Hallmarks...and it sounds like a lot of fun.