"Snow goons are bad news."
-Calvin, Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons
It's funny when you have a bunch of ideas in your head, yet you can't seem to organize them/put them onto paper. I'm at that place right now for my Vellyn (ice and snow continent) campaign.
There are ideas I've been sitting on for a year, and when I first got them, they weren't even Vellyn. I had run a couple of adventures with my friends, and then planned on sending them into the Shadowfell. While there, they would have to explore a location called the Library of Lost Secrets. I planned on having them fight dark yetis, shadows, and evil snowmen.
Yes, you heard correctly, evil snowmen. My middle school years were heavily influenced by Calvin and Hobbes, and I'm proud to say that those ideas carried over into Dungeons and Dragons.
I even went on to start making some of my own snow goons out of Crayola model magic, toothpicks, and a marker. I eventually settled on making them Large, because bigger monsters are just more fun to fight at the gaming table.
While I've been building continents and cities for my D&D games, I've mostly let those things grow naturally. Genkar started as a city, then the guilds came into play, then the outlying territories. Most of this stuff grew out of what the players wanted to do in the game. I talked with P@ about fleshing out another piece of the world, and he told me to not force it and to just let the game progress naturally. So, it's hands off.
Not necessarily the same for Vellyn. Due to this being an entirely new continent with which I'm going to run this campaign, I'm trying to create some things as a baseline for the players. I wrote about Vellyn back in August, and I'm still brainstorming things. Brainstorming for Vellyn has given me some ideas about D&D campaign brainstorming in general.
My two favorite D&D books (and granted, my knowledge is somewhat limited due to mostly hanging around a lot with 4E) is the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and the Neverwinter Campaign Setting books. Why? For starters, they both offer lots of adventure ideas and options while presenting the location. I've tried to group locations and ideas for Vellyn in this way. However, I think one of the best ideas in both books for designing a campaign location is found before Chapter 1 even begins.
Each book has about 8 characteristics which represent what a Dark Sun campaign and what a Neverwinter campaign is. They present ideas that the DM should be thinking about when they construct the campaign and present it to the players.
So, here are my Characteristics of Vellyn.
1. Vellyn is frozen.
Don't look for temperate weather around Vellyn. It doesn't exist. The continent is located so far north that the seas around it are full of thick, frozen ice that only allows ships to pass through 4 weeks of every year. This ice rock is an isolated, grim location to dwell.
2. Vellyn is primal.
If the cold won't kill you, the environmental threats will. From snow blindness, to bitter cold, Vellyn is prepared to bury the unprepared in a cold grave. Avalanches, blizzards and glacial rifts all cause once familiar landmarks and objects to be buried in snow. Those who don't understand where they are or where they are going could soon find out they might never make their way back. The number of predators lurking throughout the lands don't help either, be they yetis or Makta'Khala.
3. The War of Winter was fought here.
Legends say that when Khala, the old goddess of winter, sought to cover all the lands in eternal snowfall, she made her worldly realm here, causing endless snows and frozen wastes. It seems that Khala's effects up on the land still remain, despite her having lost the war. Relics and secrets of what happened during the War of Winter still lie buried amidst the snowy plains of Vellyn, unseen for centuries.
4. Vellyn is rich is residuum.
Magic flows through the land here as residuum, a silverish powder that can be used to fuel rituals and other spellcasting abilities. Due to the isolation and difficulty of reaching Vellyn, many of these sources are untapped. However, a few groups located south believe that it may be time to invest in Vellyn and profit.
5. Settlements are scarce.
The largest settlement on Vellyn is a coastal village in the south called Tilch. The other are scattered throughout the lands and mountains, full of superstitious half-giants and shifters. Occasionally, fey explorers stumble through various crossings, but for the most part, civilization doesn't exist here.
6. Exploration Awaits
Vellyn, unlike many other places in the world, has very few maps. Most of the land lies unexplored. Whatever ruins, dungeons, and places of wonder lie beyond villages like Tilch are unknown. Many secrets lie on this continent, waiting to be discovered.
7. Expect the Unexpected
Due to the bitter cold, many races common in other places of the world aren't encountered here. There are no goblin tribes. No kobold warrens. Instead, new dangerous predators lurk within the wilds. Yetis roam the tundra, howling into the night to communicate with one another. Makta'Khala, primal animal-men rumored to have been cursed by Khala, hunt stragglers and those lost in the wilds as prey. Expert monster fighters come to Vellyn and learn they are sorely under-prepared, realizing they have no knowledge that can combat the cunning of these winter predators.
With that, I've defined Vellyn for myself and for my players. Some of my players will like this, others won't really care. I'm fine with that. As a DM, I want to cater to all my players, and sometimes that includes different ways for each.
The only other ways I really prepare for the games I'm going to run is figuring out what materials I will need. Generally this means poster maps, and various miniatures. For the Makta'Khala and Yetis, I don't have monster tokens, so I've been investing in some Star Wars miniatures.
I hope this article has helped. I've started to realize I'm the opposite of a Lazy Dungeon Master (heck, I think I always knew), but I enjoy this part of the game a lot. Sometimes, it's nice to be creative and plan things. I even started a Pinterest for my ice and snow ideas, found here. As always, leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf