Thursday, February 09, 2012


With yet another version of D&D in the works, my thoughts turn to the initial excitement that I felt in the run-up to the current version of D&D. I remember really getting sucked in by the pre-release setting/concept art books and the whole "points of light" campaign frame. I thought the idea of isolated settlements in a very dangerous world really got to the heart of what D&D felt like to me. I remember working out a pseudo-Points of Light campaign set in an alternate version of New Zealand that was tailor-made for the new system.

Well, long-story-short, I decided I wasn't all that keen on 4e.

There was a lot that I liked in the initial batch of 4e books, especially the DMG and Monster Manuals. But in play it just wasn't my thing. I moved backwards (OSR) and sideways (Old School Hack) and tried to stay out of the edition wars.

Unexpectedly, my thoughts have returned to fantasy. I'm not even really tuned in to the 5e discussions. I just want to do a little world building in anticipation of squeezing an occasional fantasy game into our already crowded schedule.

So here's my thought:

I was thinking about Justin Cronin's The Passage and how the vampires were kept at bay by electric lights in the post-apocalyptic world. Why not have a fantasy world where the creatures of Chaos (i.e. pretty much the entirety of the Monster Manual) could be kept at bay by lighting lamps that burned a combination of rare materials?

The lamps would create light in their local area, but nothing as bright as the stadium lights of the colony in The Passage. I'd still like to have night in the settlements.

The lamps would be large and bulky because if they were really portable, adventurers would be able to keep monsters at bay in the wilderness (and the dungeon!). I do imagine caravans carrying slightly less bulky versions of the lamps, but these might have their own difficulties. Portable lamps, might not be effective enough to keep monsters at bay but they could, perhaps, provide some benefit (that may or may not be worth the expense).

The lamps would require three or more ingredients from disparate geographical areas. That pretty much forces the existence of tenuous trade routes, linked by the aforementioned caravans. I'd do this because I've been itching to run a silk road campaign and I have some specific imagery in mind for the various settlements.

Finally, I imagine that world wasn't always like this and that some kind of apocalypse wiped out a grand civilization. I do not think that this civilization was our own and I think I would prefer to have it be distinctly non-medieval (and non-western). I think the level of pre-apocalyptic technology would at least be industrial, though much of that technology has now been lost (waiting to be discovered in the ruins).


Greyhawk Knight said...

I get a "Pitch Black" vibe from this...

Martin R. Thomas said...

I haven't read The Passage but your Idea sounds awesome. I really like this approach and now I kinda want to steal it for my next game!

Trey said...

What Martin says. Sounds like a great set-up--and it has a snappy name.

Greg said...

Yeah, I was thinking Pitch Black, too...

Risus Monkey said...

The Pitch Black vibe was unintentional, but I do see it now. Interesting.

@Martin: Go for it! I'd love to hear about it. I'm going to file this one away for future use for sure.

@Trey: I do like the name quite a bit and I like it more as I think about it. Everything can flow from a good name: themes, imagery, and even primary player activity. In a Lamplighters game, it seems natural that the primary goal would be for the PCs to keep their own settlement's lamps lit and to light new ones in the Wilderness.

Chakat Firepaw said...

A thought for how to restrict the caravan lamps:

While they are strong enough to keep the creatures from coming up to you and biting your head off, they aren't strong enough to keep them from throwing things at you.

Or from throwing things at the _lamps_.

Another possible restriction is how much fuel you can afford to carry. A serious delay could mean you now have a caravan that has to push hard to reach a town before their lamps go out.

Risus Monkey said...

@Chakat: I like your thinking. I had almost imagined that there might be different ways that lanterns might protect, depending on the resource that they consume. Some lamps might obfuscate the good guys. Others might form a force-like barrier. Others might induce somnolence in the creatures of Chaos. But yes, attacking from a distance is an option for creatures that are simply warded from approaching. So is using dupes to sabatoge the lamps.

And carrying capacity would definitely limit the caravans. :)

matt jackson said...

Have you looked at the Foundling book series?
It has a somewhat similar idea. The world is full of monsters, but most cannot stomach light and only come out at night. To combat this, they use lights along all the roads and city edges to keep the monsters at bay.
The first and second book were outstanding, not read the third yet.

Risus Monkey said...

@matt: Keen! But once again, I feel like my brain has been pillaged from afar. The description of the book/series is strikingly similar. I'm going to have to check it out.