Monday, November 30, 2009

My Second Campaign Setting: Home Base

In the late 1970s I was a fan of the TV show In Search Of (yay Leonard Nimoy!), and on May 22, 1977 it ran the episode In Search of Atlantis, which blew me away at the time. I was so excited about the idea of Atlantis that with my allowance I bought off the rack in a grocery store a paperback by Charles Berlitz called The Mystery of Atlantis, which I devoured in a credulous frenzy. By eighth grade (1979-80), when the in thing for D&D players at South Shore to do was to make up a home base for our characters between adventures, there was no question where I was going to choose.

Sometimes the line between player and DM got a bit blurred in those early teen years, and illogical wish-fulfillment frequently drove our actions. In hindsight, it isn't clear what else could have. After all, since none of us had a developed campaign setting, our characters more or less didn't exist between dungeon adventures. Those of us dissatisfied with that state of affairs found the idea of creating home bases for our characters the more obvious next step rather than creating entire campaign settings for everyone else's characters. It seemed the most direct solution.

I don't know how everyone else at South Shore went about this, but in an effort to be fair I DMed my own player characters (PCs) as though they were someone else's characters through the process of discovering Atlantis, fighting dinosaurs on behalf of the ruling council (hey, what teenage nerd-boy doesn't dream of either owning or fighting dinosaurs?), and negotiating the purchase of land on which to build my characters' home base. The deal struck was this: my player characters defended the existing Atlantean kingdoms from the nasty monsters, and in return we got to take some vacant land to create the seventh kingdom. Armed with a magical Lyre of Building won in more normal D&D adventures, we worked week by week between dungeon crawls to construct that perfect home base at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

This isn't quite as weird as it seems for that era, given the precedent of solo-gaming established in the back of the Dungeon Masters' Guide and given the absence of any better options for between-adventures existence, but certainly by today's standards when campaign settings are a dime a dozen it'd be completely unacceptable. I suspect some of my peers were building their home bases in even less acceptable ways, by inventing everything from whole cloth by fiat and giving it to themselves (we used to say "His DM is the #2 pencil!").

As it happens, though, the illegitimacy of our campaign settings' origins quickly became moot as those characters were gradually retired and we began to realize what else our home bases could be used for.

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