Saturday, January 15, 2022

Gorzeh Badlands Campaign Setting

This is just a quick sketch of a setting for a campaign in Swords &Wizardry I am starting with my son with the intent of showing him a few techniques and tools for making his own games better. I chose S&W specifically because it is recognizably an OSR Dungeons & Dragons retroclone, but is rules-wise the most uncomplicated one on my shelves: and that is saying a lot!

(That it was a Christmas present from my Sister-in-Law is a deciding factor, too.)

This is not going to be nearly as detailed as some of the other things I have been working on over the past few months. But as I had a lot of ideas, I figured that I might as well map them out out loud and discuss why I want to do them the way I do.

Design Principles

  • I want this setting to be pretty gonzo. My son plays and watches a lot more conventional fantasy media. Adding in some strangeness is going to be important. 
  • I am also planning on putting in a very contained effort. This is a setting meant to teach my some some very specific things on how to run a campaign that players want to keep playing in. It is not something I intend to run in the long term. I don't need massive, sprawling maps, etc. One or two towns will suffice.
  • I want to be sure that my son sees me using some home-
  • brew material here, so that he knows that he can make some stuff up and it isn't as hard as it sounds.
  • Plunder from lots of Appendix-N sources! Especially Vance.


The Gorzeh badlands are a remote reach bordered by the burning sandy Raqquid desert to the West and South. To the North they are bounded by the Scyld Mountains. Beyond the Scyld the shining kingdom of Azmuth has built a chivalric nation ruled by a Priest-King of the Goddess of Justice, Brythanwy.

The Gorzeh badlands, on the other hand, were, for centuries ruled by small petty wizard-lords, the Azul, who constantly wage petty conflicts with each other of the fading lore of the Azurin wizard-kings that ruled the land before it was scorched and ruined

230 years ago Azmuth tamed the Gorzeh and passed laws constraining the Azul, enforced by royal assassins. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the common-folk of Gorzeh, while the Azul families became complacent and less powerful with each generation.

9 years ago, the Storm Dragon Dorzahn collapsed the passes and terrorized South Azmuth. His reign of terror cut Azmuth and Gorzeh off from one another. The Azul turned on the Assassins' guild and all but wiped it out. Within a few years, the Azul's petty magrocratic states reappeared, as only the magicians were able to protect the people from the horrors of the wasteland without Azmuth troops to protect them.

Now the dragon is dead, and King Irwin II of Azmuth is sending his knights and royal agents to reassert his law. Some Azul willing cede back power, others slay knights on sight. Some wish to renegotiate the power dynamics between the wizards and the crown.

Starting Base

Opal Springs, named for the opal beetles that cling like jewels to some of the eucalyptus trees here (I am going to use a lot of Aussie animals), sits on the very edge of the Raqquid. it is a mining town that digs opals, gold, iron, and copper out of the rich crags and Mesas to its north. To the West an even smaller town called Hark serves as the docks for magical sand-ships that sail the Raqquid.

Opal springs is in the middle of a dangerous water shortage. Its Azul mistress, Mirala, has blocked off the river that runs through town, using it to power water wheels for his industrial experiments, then allows only a trickle into the town. She rations the water, making people line up for hours to be given a pittance.

Water thieves are becoming a problem, and those with a supply sell it at 5sp per waterskin. The rainy season is about four weeks off, and no one is sure if the town will hold together socially without water. While the people have enough to survive, domestic animals, gardens, and crops are beginning to wither.

Adventure Hooks

Several springs and ponds can be found in the lowlands  below the town, but they are drying up.

A lake an hour away was unaffected, and remains a tantalizing source. Only recently a lizard-man diver, Karn, exploring the depths for a fisherman's lost ring, discovered a ruin in the depths. In exploring the ruin, he accidentally let a swarm of Frog-Demonettes (as described in Chris Kutalik's What Ho, Frog Demons?) free. They terrorize the area.

Those who commit great sins and violent crimes are not permitted to be buried in the mausoleums of Brythanwy. And the Fire Cult that worships the Spirit of the Desert, the Ajin, will not cremate those who are not of their faith. The damned dead are cast into an abandoned mine called the Bone Quarry. Recently the bone quarry has become haunted by the undead spirit of a gunslinger who was killed by Mirala for challenging her rule. Skeletal riders on undead horses packing crude firearms and wearing his colors now ride the roads near town hunting merchants.

There is a conspiracy to destroy Mirala's dam with mining explosives. This will definitely involve confronting her strange insectoid minions.

The legendary decanter of endless water is said to be buried in a tomb in the necropolis, but several have already disappeared looking for it. Tales of ghouls, djinn, and packs of cassowaries guarding the area deter most adventurers.

One of Mirala's rivals, an neighboring Azmuth-friendly Azul mage called Klamath has agents in town looking for thieves daring enough to steal some magical lore from Mirala's dungeons.

Some Details

The Sand-Ships run on skids that crackle with lightning and lift the ships inches across the sand. They are crewed by lanky, robed and masked figures that serve the magister Harmon, who has a monopoly on passage across the desert to the Kingdom of Esme to the East. Most people think that the Raq sailors are not human.

Wagons in the badlands are drawn by giant lizards. Torm, a peddlar friendly to the characters keeps a beehive in the back of his cart. He hangs cages full of bees on a set of lines to lure his lizards. Honey-based treats and goods preserved with a honey glaze are his specialty.

The Necropolis is a number of rows of ancient tombs shaped like stone beehives sit in eerie fields not far from Opal Springs, they are often accompanied by actual hives of giant bees.

The Ajin cult is orange-robed cult that worships the desert spirit and burning sun. They are supreme alchemists tolerated by the clerics of Brythanwy because of their importance to the mines. Most members are Halflings. The cult makes and sells elementary firearms. Halfling characters are automatically proficient in pistol and blunderbuss.

Opal Springs' Inn, the Jeweled Coolibah, is nearly out of whisky and ale. it sells water, right now, and many are fine with hanging out there for that alone. The innkeeper posses an ancient radio that picks up strains of music and odd transmissions from backwards in time.

Dwarves came to the region with the Azmuth to help create safer, more efficient mines. They don't have lands of their own, but they have camps in cliffsides near mining towns like Opal Springs.

The local temple of Brythanwy has been established an ancient watchtower that dates back to when the Desert was more easily traversed and the Esme took over this region as part of their empire. It is beautiful, white, and hung with the blue and silver banners of the goddess. It's high priestess exhausts her magic everyday in rites to conjure extra water to keep the town from shriveling up.

Local Random Encounters

The encounters in the Gorzeh wasteland include a lot of odd monsters that I will have to start out later.

d10+d6Gorzeh Wilderness Encounter
2An Ajin fire cultist communing with the heat 
31d8 flying dust squid
4vultures lead the PCs to a dessicated corpse with a backpack.
52d3 skeletons with flintlock pistols riding undead horses
62d4 cassowaries
73d4 kangaroos (ornery)
82d4 desperate normal men seeking water.
92d6 giant bees
102d6 bandits seeking gold, water, and prisoners.
113d6 cockroach men scavenging a piece of ancient technology.
122d6 wild dingos
132d6 killerroos
142d4 frog demonettes and 2d4+1 tortoises with water barrels to keep them damp for a raid.
15a clockwork scout spies for Mirala
161d3 deodands

I welcome comments and suggestions!

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