Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 1 - The Overall Setting

How hard can creating a world be? God did it in seven days.
This is the first of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I'll be creating a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

Creating a setting from scratch can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be. Gary breaks the process down into 5 easy steps. In fact, he is so confident in his methods that he promises that by following these steps you'll be "stuck refereeing [Dungeons & Dragons] seven days per week until the wee hours of the morning!" Sounds like fun. Let's jump in!

One minor change to his process is that I'll be using Delving Deeper instead of any of the editions of venerable D&D. I've come to Delving Deeper recently as a result of Ray Otus' blog and podcast (check out links at the end of this post for the results of his efforts in this challenge). For those that don't know what DD is:
Delving Deeper is a legal emulation of the original 1974 fantasy role-playing game published under the Open Game License.
My study of the game leads me to believe it is an authentic and well-researched rendition of OD&D. You can learn more about DD at With the game system selected, it's time to get back to Gary's process.

Step 1: Creating the Overall Setting

Gary tells us that creating the overall setting "is something you do in your head." From this I take it he means daydreaming and cogitating on the things that you'd like in a fantasy setting.

Having spent the better part of a week thinking about the setting I want to referee, I can say the richness of the setting has benefited from this thought exercise. Ideas started simply and grew as I spent more time in that setting "head-space". For example, when it came to what fantasy races to include, I worked from the general - Elves - to the more specific - the eternal and reclusive Eldir - especially once I found some visual inspiration to fuel the fire of the creative process.

Next Gary suggests that "fantasy/swords & sorcery games need not have any fixed basis for the assumptions made by its referee (my own doesn't) except those which embrace the whole of fantasy." Basically, anything goes. Mix and match sources (see below) to your heart's desire. I feel his recommendation is sound. A modern example of this is the approach taken by the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

Personally, this sort of approached can easily lead to a more gonzo game; once in a while this is great, but not exactly something I like to run on a regular basis. I tend to keep the scope narrow, approaching the mixing of sources as a very selective process. It helps that my source material already has a slight mixing of genres. Gary does admit that settings "based upon limits...can be very interesting in themselves providing the scope of the setting will allow players relative free-reign to their imaginations." To which I wholeheartedly agree!

Gary's next bit of advise is rather interesting. He encourages referees to "keep it secret from your players, or else they can study your sources and become immediately too knowledgeable, thus removing the charm of uncertainty." I get where he's coming from. I once had a player who memorized both AD&D Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio. I was hard-pressed to provide any element of surprise without going to a source that he had no knowledge of.

But that example is one dealing with core game mechanics. When it comes to the flavor of the source material, I think the more the player knows, the better they can get into the setting. If they know the setting is Medieval European Folklore then they can make appropriate choices within the game to supplement play. In fact, they may be able to offer suggestions and additions that compliment the setting the more familiar they are with the source.

Sources of Inspiration

Now to get down to it. While Gary lists many excellent potential sources, I chose a source that has given me great joy for many years: the Canadian rock band Rush. I've been a fan of their music for almost their entire career. Their music is filled with stories of adventure and fantasy.

In a fortunate moment of synchronicity I realized that two of Rush's albums not only map so well to the medieval European backdrop of Delving Deeper, but were also released in 1975 - the year Gary's article on campaign building appeared in EUROPA : Fly By Night and Caress of Steel. From these albums I chose a number of songs that are exemplary of the themes and characters of the setting I am building (see links below for the Spotify playlist):
From these songs I compiled the following high-level summaries for my setting.

Caress of Steel

  • The forces of Law and Chaos battle for the hearts of Humanity. Their rosters are legion. One shining champion of Law is the celestial Snow Dog and their clerical disciples. Opposing Snow Dog’s light is Chaos’ own Prince By-Tor, Knight of Darkness, and his anti-clerical faithful.
  • Humanity resides in the lands of the Overworld while the hordes of Chaos abide below them in the Netherworld. High above both, the celestial forces of Law grace the starlit heavens.
  • Humans are the primary and most numerous inhabitants of the Overworld. They share the land with eternal and reclusive Eldir who long ago traveled from some unknown land to now call the Overworld their home.
  • Some Human lands are ruled by Nobles through their claim of Divine Right. In other lands the Rule of Royals has been replaced by other forms of governance, leading to scattered city states. The Eldir strive to keep to themselves in their secluded forest homes, but invariably are drawn into the fray as Human passions flare and ignite war and conflict.
  • Endless are the hordes of Chaos in the Netherworld. From time to time they spill forth from Hades to wreak havoc in the Overworld. The restless dead are known to leave their tombs and crypts if they were not provided fare to cross the River Styx. Frightful are the demons who tempt Human souls to do their masters’ bidding and the fearsome dragons who lay waste to the land if their slumber is disturbed.
  • The Overworld is of unknown age. Countless epochs have passed, interspersing remnants of the lost ages among the unpopulated wilds.
  • The overall level of technology in the Overworld is that of the Late Medieval Period of European history.


Caress of Steel Mood Board

From Ray Otus

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 1
Uzerak: Where Gods Walk Mood Board

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 1

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Unknown artist from Camille Flammarion's, L'Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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