I continue rushing headlong into the second year of writing Coldforged material, and this year I hope to cover enough topics in preparation to print as is possible. I hope we’re in the home stretch. I’m starting a new series here about writing adventures and trying to get the flavor of Coldforged setting to come through. Let’s dive in.
The Feel of the Game
One of the enjoyable aspects of any setting is the feeling that it evokes in the adventures and the characters. Coldforged, I feel, is no different. Campaign settings, by their very nature, have the same elements reflected in their design, and their unique flavor is amplified not by what they choose to include or exclude, but where they choose to focus within those shared elements.
For Coldforged, I think the following elements are important:
- Elemental Forces
- Gritty and tough fights
- Lower focus on magic
- Declining civilization
Combining these aspects, or highlighting one or two of them, really makes the game sing with Coldforges voice. I don’t think that all of them need to be used each adventure, but ensuring that at one is included can easily give the correct feeling that the game should be providing.
As a defining aspect of Coldforged, the Deities and the piety system focuses on maintaining the divine presence within any given adventure. While some adventures or campaigns will be specifically and wholly dedicated to deities concerns, fighting for their cause against the enemies of the church or standing in defiance of a greater enemy, many will not. Allowing the players the chance to perform activities for their church in tandem with the adventure, through local priests and clergy, churches or simply wandering holy hermits will place the flavor of the divine clearly in the center of the game.
The elemental forces are some of the hardest to focus exclusively on because these forces are intimately tied up with both divinity and many monsters. This does grant plenty of room to put a personal spin on many monsters that are encountered within the world, giving them elemental powers where they normally aren’t present. Goblin fire priests, Elven Ice mages, or even Orcish Storm ragers. Taking the time to customize the monsters and encounters to reflect the stronger ties to the elements is something that I love doing, and one day I’ll likely come out with a book dedicated to all these types of modifications, but not yet.
Tough, Gritty Fights.
This is something that I find to be rather subtle, but effective focus. In many games, the players fight grand battles against wizards, dragons, demons and angels, monsters from another time and dimension. I would suggest, for a Coldforged game, that those types of encounters and monsters are kept to a minimum, and used for effect. These types of monsters are easy to reskin into other creatures, like the above elemental based monsters, extra powerful leaders, or sometimes simply more powerful versions of the creatures they’ve been fighting for some time.
Additionally, I think its very safe to use some of the iconic and mythological monsters with significant frequency. Using creatures like chimera, cyclops, hydras and even minotaur still lends an air of that standard familiarity that a tough and gritty world espouses.
Beyond using monsters that are much less over the top, it is often best to make the fights a bit tougher and the danger a bit more pronounced. I enjoy using a number of rules put together in order to hone the edge of danger a bit further. I’ll talk about them another time, but look into Lasting Injuries and more difficult healing, and see how your group would approach those rules.
Lower Magic Focus
Keeping the focus of the adventure grounded on fairly realistic pretenses is something that I’ve had a lot of fun over the years with. This includes making sure not to handwave many things with “a wizard did it” or other such trivial explanations. Put time into thinking about how the circumstances came to be, and why they matter in this instance. Additionally, make sure that the game doesn’t revolve around specific, powerful, and generic magic items. Make each item matter, and don’t litter the place with magic swords and enchanted armor and fancy trinkets. Focus on items that make a difference to the characters and that they will enjoy having around. This is especially true in 5th edition, where the game assumes that all magic items are a boon, and you don’t need many to proceed.
That said, I do think that scrolls, potions, and ritual books are a great way to enhance the low magic feeling. It gives that impermanence and power to the magic that allows it to feel more powerful because its a consumable or because it takes so long to perform. I like these magic items, along with wands and magic weapons and armor, as the foundation of most of my magic items sets, with giving out high bonuses. +2’s are great and a single +3 makes that player feel like a powerhouse.
While many settings have long-dead civilizations and many kingdoms that ruled the world prior to this age, I find the crumbling civilizations of the current age to be a fascinating change. While many settings have wars and conflict, most of the current kingdoms and nations are rather set. They exist and have yet had the fuse lit to destroy them, and adventures tend to take place within the confines as they currently exist.
In a Coldforged game, I strongly encourage people to start taking a hammer to the settings baseline as much as they like! There are so many conflicts and internal rot within the setting that nearly everywhere is rife with adventure possibility. Take the Drimmen Orderhalls back, fight against the feyplague, or march with the Kingdom of Tyndaria to war against Vale.
on top of each of these modern problems, or should I say below them, are the recently destroyed kingdoms that existed within memory. Killbarum, Drimm, Lev, and Eshkin all have ruins to explore, items to recover, and stories to be told, and it doesn’t need to be the main story either.
If there is a relic that needs to be located in order to progress the story, simply putting a name to the tomb – An Occuran fortress that fell in a siege, gives it more flavor and depth, even if its overall meaning is small. building these older civilizations into the current ones provides, in my eyes, more depth and power than the ones that have been given to the villains over the years of D&D. Illithids, Aeboleth, Giants, Dragons, Kua-toa, and others have, in their flavor text ancient civilizations. These too can be built into a Coldforged campaign, if the desire strikes, but I find that the civilizations more tethered to reality bring the best stories to the board.
This is the start of a parallel series that is going to run, I hope, alongside the Atlas series that helps me pull everything together, and get more of the book completed. It’ll be fun to explore the methods of creating memorable adventures and fun villains for many of the kingdoms, and I hope its as enjoyable to read as it is to write. Until next time.