This is the website for a short, introductory Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The rules set we’ll use is D&D Next, also known as 5th edition. On this webpage, I’ll describe the goals and fence-posts of the campaign, as well as sketch out a small campaign setting for the game’s use.
We approach the winter solstice of the 33rd year of the Reign of His Majesty King Marcellinus II, of the Noble House of Blackwood, over the Sovereign Kingdom of Urenia. It is a time of fragile, and often superficial, peace.
The youngest son of Lord Julian Snow, an influential nobleman, has gone missing, possibly of his own accord. Young Dracian is a canny sorcerer who has long chafed at his father’s strict hand, and has a few allies — and enemies — among the aristocracy himself. Lord Snow has tasked the PCs to safely retrieve his wayward son, and understand the reasons behind his disappearance. To do so, they must investigate the countryside … and perhaps venture into places other men and women fear to tread.
Campaign Setting: Urenia
The campaign takes place in the kingdom of Urenia, a small feudal society of lords and knights, merchants and priests, bandits and barbarians, and numerous agrarian peasants and fishermen. Urenia is arguably less a centralized kingdom, and more a tenuous alliance of large towns ruled by aristocratic families that dominate trade, military, magic, agriculture throughout the land.
Urenia is divided into three provinces: Dolomitia, Regalia, and Colzone. Each province is governed by a handful of aristocratic houses. In theory, his Royal Majesty the King may politically intervene to his discretion. In practice, however, power is concentrated at a local level, such that feuding nobles may ignite conflict within or across provinces. Indeed, many aristocrats balk at royal authority — after all, is not the current king simply the heir of a now-dead warlord, Marcellinus I, who won his crown through war? For some, the death of an aging ruler cannot come swiftly enough …
Broadly speaking, the aristocratic houses are split into two factions: Royalists, who back King Marcellinus and his House of Blackwood, and Seasiders, who’d rather replace the king with someone more amenable to their interests. (Called Seasiders since more of them come from outlying coastal areas along the western shore and the island of Linghari.) Neither of these factions are formal organizations, and indeed a number of families are not transparent about their loyalties. Royalists are of course closer to royal authority, but Seasiders arguably command greater influence over trade and seafaring.
There is restlessness too from below. Although a series of peasant uprisings, which happened about 20 years ago, afforded Urenia’s people greater rights, higher wages, and economic reforms, these gains are still vulnerable to revision, if not total annulment. Numerous hill-folk, who live in small settlements isolated from mainstream society, fear incursion, taxation, and land seizure by greedy nobles and gentry. Traveling merchants are common, but are also fat pickings for the bandits who prowl the countryside, often with unspoken sanction from elites. Sometimes, it’s not bandits who steal and harass, but corrupt soldiers and officials exploiting their privileges.
The majority, perhaps 85 percent, of Urenians are human. The rest — dwarves, elves, half-elves, halflings, and half-orcs — live within human society as minorities, without societies of their own (insofar as they think of themselves as being “of their own”). In the lands of Urenia , the natural lifespan of these minority races does not exceed the human lifespan by more than about 40 years. (This is still considered a remarkable length, by humans.) Most of these “demi-humans” are part of a larger diaspora, and while they are no longer an uncommon sight in the kingdom, their communities tend to be marginalized and hitched to the peasantry.
Much danger comes from without too. To the west are barren wastes, the product of some ancient curse upon the very land. The wastelands are inhabited by nomadic clans of monsters, mostly composed of: gnolls, cunning hyena-men that seem to make up the majority of these monsters; ettins, two-headed giants, each easily able to slay a dozen soldiers; and tieflings, strange men and women with horns and hooves, capable of wicked magic. These three “races” of appear to cooperate, often with seemingly little prejudice among themselves. Some are known to attack Urenia’s settlements, and usually eat the captives. Urenians who enter their wasteland territories are often slain on sight. Thes outlanders also raid Urenia’s coast, traveling by remarkably high-quality longships.
The people to the northeast are humans, but considered just barely so by most Urenians. These barbarians, collectively called the Tribes of the Claw, are organized in small, fierce clans, and their relationship with Urenia is mutually antagonistic, though they are also known to trade and hire themselves as mercenaries. The kingdom has mounted several expeditions to bring the Tribes of the Claw to heel. None have succeeded. Today, some areas in northern Urenia are nearly as much Urenian as barbarian.
Foreigners from the south reach Urenia by sea, to steal, trade, or a little bit of both. Sometimes, they exile their criminals to Urenia. Sometimes, they send spies. For these reasons, the Kingdoms of the South are rarely trusted, but as long as some of them have gold and resources to trade, Urenians don’t immediately respond with fight or flight, as they are wont to do with gnolls, ettins, tieflings, and dragons. (Even a recent period of brutal raiding along the Urenian coast is now half-forgotten by many.)
Feared most by all, ancient dragons and their progeny dwell in the Dolbaccio Mountains. Thankfully the eldest of these dragons are content to laze away decades in slumber and idle play, but each year several younger dragons steal gold, devour livestock and humans, and slay interlopers who venture too near to their mountain domains. Nobles have long sought to fend off these monstrous attacks, or even have one of the dragons slain in their lair. Few are those who have succeeded — and those who have have often found themselves targeted for reprisal by an even more dangerous dragon. Some dragons walk disguised as humans in Urenia, insinuating themselves as merchants, magicians, and nobles. Rumors speak of certain Urenian lords already having attracted the favor of the eldest dragons, influencing when and where they expose the kingdom to their fury.
Faith, Culture, and Knowledge
Faith is one of the most fundamental dimensions of Urenia, both in folk and institutionalized forms, among both the low and high classes in society. Urenians quite proudly stick to their religion as one of the sources of knowledge, living, and morality that distinguishes them from heathen, barbaric outsiders. At the heart of Urenian religion are two pantheons of deities: the Powers Above and the Powers Below. These two pantheons are not opposed to each other; they simply represent different norms of faith, different ideas about spiritual relation to a complex world.
The Powers Above are the mainstream deities commonly worshiped throughout Urenia. The majority of the population is not only religiously committed to faith in the Powers Above, but consistently committed. Commonly shared rites and folk practices of childbirth, coming-of-age, marriage, profession, travel, and fealty between lord and vassal all invoke this pantheon. The three most important deities here are: Ursha, god of architecture, order, authority, knowledge, and royal power; Python, god of tranquility and the wilderness; and Ourea, god of agriculture, fertility, and the household.
The Powers Below are “dark gods,” but they are not universally abhorred by Urenian society. They are seen to represent the dangerous necessities and cruel realities of the world, and they represent the world’s aspects no less than their holy counterparts. Only a minority of Urenians are consistently devoted to a deity of the Powers Below, and they usually belong to cults, priesthoods, and secret societies. Whether such organizations are forbidden or approved by the local aristocrats is as much a matter of politics as it is philosophy. Ultimately, the devotees of the Powers Below will most likely continue to belong in Urenia for the foreseeable future: This is because most people do pay ritual tribute — whether token respect or material sacrifice — to them at some point in their lives, usually involving during times of grief, malady, strife, and desperation.
The Powers Below are rarely named, for fear of attracting their undue attention. The three most important deities here are: the God of Chaos, who represents war, violence, and madness in their myriad glory; the God of Death, who is believed to deliver departed souls to the afterlife and fix them there; and the God of Secrets, worshiped by many mystics who hope to discover a portion of its forbidden magical knowledge.
In short, the Powers Above illustrate and define the moral life for mortals, and the Powers Below remind mortals of their existences’ frailties, contradictions, tribulations, and aporias. To the average Urenian, the cosmos are grand and bewildering, but it is some consolation to know she has a place in it as a mortal.