This entry is part 1 in the series Orcs & Elves

I’ve got a lot of campaign prep to get done over the next few months. In fact, I’ve got so much to do that if I don’t do it here, in public, I’ll either never get it done in time – or be so distracted that Campaign Mastery will suffer. I’ve chosen the former course…

This Article

If this approach is going to generate any value for my readers here at Campaign Mastery, I need to start with a little – no make that a lot – of preexisting background material that can put the new content into context. In fact, there was so much material that I’ve had to split the original article into three parts.

  • Part 1 looks at the general question of why I do this sort of thing.
  • Part 2 continues by discussing Elves, Drow, and Ogres in Fumanor.
  • Part 3 will deal with Orcs, Dwarflings, The Verdonne, and the history of the campaign. If I can, I’ll sneak in a few words about Halflings and Dwarves as well, even though those aren’t needed. With all that out of the way, I’ll conclude by quickly describing how I have written and am going to continue to write the rest of the series.

That’s when the real article can start! Most of the information is aimed at enlightening the readership of who and what the key participants in the story that is to unfold are.

In other words, this article trilogy is a primer. It just happens to give away a lot of material that other GMs should find useful.

I think some of the content has appeared at Roleplaying Tips in the past, but I couldn’t find it when I went looking there. But Johnn was kind enough, years ago, to give me explicit permission to republish the relevant materials, so there’s no problem. Some of the material dates back to before the turn of the century, some of it dates from 2005, and some of it is more recent. Campaign Background material is like that – small increments of capital improvement adding up over a period of years into something massive.

Yo be honest, if I weren’t under the gun, timewise, I would probably split this up into seven or eight separate articles. But even with what promises to be one of the largest articles ever posted here at Campaign Mastery, there’s still more than enough to make this a very long series…

So let’s dive right in!

Why reinvent races?

I think the first question that needs to be answered is why do it at all? Why reinvent the races for each different campaign? It’s a lot of work, and you can’t really expect to get rich doing it – which generally means that you would be better off, at least financially, by spending your time elsewhere – and it’s only indirectly valuable to the campaign. In terms of return-on-time-invested, as measured by the amount of playable material it provides, it’s not all that attractive. The one-word answer: Context, as in “This is the material that puts everything else in the campaign into context”.

One word is never enough to get to the heart of the matter, though, so let’s go into the question in somewhat more detail.

Building Blocks

The races, especially the PC races, are the building blocks of your campaign. They specify the common foundations that apply to a range of characters, relationships with other races, and lay the groundwork for adventures within the campaign that are more than just a dungeon-bash. But, like a set of Lego, there’s not a huge variety to the buildings you can create with only the standard bricks. To get creative, you need some additional pieces – and to get really creative, they should be original in design, if you’re good enough at it to pull that off.

Original thoughts and ideas

Customizing the races therefore permits the inclusion and exploration within the campaign of original thoughts and ideas. Right away, there’s that context that was referred to; changing the character archetypes and common standards can’t help but create a new perspective on even evergreen plotlines. This extends the vitality of the campaign and the level of interest for all concerned, and it’s one of the big secrets to campaign longevity.

Track me on this: If you only expected your campaign to last a few months, you wouldn’t invest months of work into customizing the races (or anything much else, as a matter of fact). Since the resulting campaign has only generic appeal, it almost certainly has a relatively limited lifespan. If, on the other hand, you assume that the campaign (and its sequels) could last for years or even decades, could even outlive the involvement of the original players, then it doesn’t seem such a burden to invest a few additional months in development, resulting in the generation of enough material of interest that the campaign will probably last for years or longer.

Original Adventures

Beyond reinventing the generic adventures, each change that you make opens up the potential for new adventures, because the heart of an adventure is an interaction between characters. Change the nature of those characters and you change the ways in which they can interact, replacing old and tired tropes with something new and different.

Unto each Campaign its own flavor

To be fair, when I first adopted this approach, the preceding reasons had not occurred to me – they were unexpected dividends. All I really wanted was to give each campaign its own flavor, its own sense of atmosphere. My theory was that this would make the campaign more immersive – after a few minutes of play each game session, both players and GM would find themselves slipping into “Campaign X Mode”. This would not only make roleplaying easier, it would create inherent interest in the campaign.

I likened it to a TV series – the general type of show might be generic (“A detective/crime show” or whatever) and if that’s all that it’s got going for it, it is not going to last. To succeed, and keep the players (“the audience”) coming back week after week, it would need something more than a generic appeal. What’s more, I had seen enough of these uninspired “filler” TV shows to realize that even good actors became wooden in their roles – to really deliver of their best, they needed something to play off of. Creativity breeds creativity.

Player Investment

In other words, your investment in creativity encourages the players to invest greater creativity into their characters and hence become more attached to the game. The result is that you don’t have to do it all alone – you start the ball rolling downhill, and watch it grow as layers – contributions – from others get added. The result is that the potential for interest and originality within the campaign is returned many-fold for every hour invested in creativity. This element also increases player interest within the campaign, as they feel that they are contributing to something special. This is a positive-feedback loop of the best kind.

Player Uncertainty to match that of the characters

So far, these have all been reasons to custom create almost anything within the campaign – and much of what is desirable can be achieved by the creation of original political structures and situations. Why focus specifically on the races of the world?

Because every player has read the PHB, and many of them have read the Monster Manual or its equivalent, and even if this player-knowledge is not supposed to inform their roleplaying decisions, it seeps through. The choices are to be draconian in enforcing the distinction, to tolerate blatant and repeated violations of the “player knowledge principle” (because it’s hard to know where to draw the line), or to assume that the players have this knowledge and make it at least semi-irrelevant.

The Official sources

Picture a scholar compiling a great reference work on all the varieties of creature in the world. The ones that he and the people around him dealt with, every day, would be reasonably accurate in description. Inevitably, the further away from that objective reality his gaze went, the more fantastic and mythological the creatures listed would become. How do I know? Because that’s what really happened. Refer to the Wikipedia Page for The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, for confirmation. While some of the creatures listed derive from works of fiction, most of them were tales of the fantastic from explorers, scholarly surmises, mistakes, or mythological creatures. It was quite common in the middle ages for someone’s imaginary or legendary creatures to end up being listed as real in someone else’s comparative zoology.

I treat the official sources as being exactly the same sort of book, supplemented where necessary by original game material, usually written by humans (because we tend to like to do that sort of thing) or sometimes Halflings (if they are more like Hobbits in this particular campaign) – again because such scholarly works and a lack of first-hand knowledge tends to fit that species fairly well. That means that everything in the Monster Manual has been contaminated with erroneous information:

Contaminated by myth
Some entries are mythological, and there’s nothing like those creatures actually in existence. Loch Ness Monsters, anyone?

Contaminated by imagination
Some entries describe abilities or characteristics that the author or his sources have invented to explain natural phenomena or theorized to fill some gap in their understanding.

Contaminated by humor
Elves (and some other races) are known to have strange and possibly perverse senses of humor. I wouldn’t put it past them to invent a few creatures or abilities as jokes on the oh-so-earnest human who can’t go and look for himself.

Contaminated by assumption
There are always assumptions made – and not all of those assumptions are correct. If the understanding of the nature of the world is limited, some of those assumptions are vast. Inheritance of characteristics is a big one from the era pre-genetics. Trying to recreate animals based on their skeletons is fraught with contamination by assumption that is only slowly being weeded out.

Contaminated by error
Mistakes happen. Get over it.

Contaminated by prejudice
Snakes and serpents are assumed to be evil in many mythologies and religious works because people have had a prejudice against the species for ages. Spiders catch a little of that, as well. In fantasy terms, people generally don’t like Orcs and Drow and so on; prejudice and fear lead them to attribute all sorts of abilities and natures to such creatures that may or may not actually exist.

Contaminated by defense
If you’re a sentient race and you have a racial weakness, are you more likely to tell the truth about it or invent a superior ability to camouflage the weakness? If you later find that the subterfuge is unnecessary, it’s too late – the myth has entered the popular zeitgeist and rationalizing people will forever more be inventing things to explain the differences.

Contaminated by hoax
Kids play tricks. So do some adults. Some hoaxes have a more serious purpose – diverting an enemy army, for example.

Contaminated by boasting
“I once saw a creature with a neck twelve feet long.” “That’s nothing, I once saw one with a neck twenty feet long.” “Mine had cloven hooves with savage claws.” “Ah, but mine was covered in scales and breathed fire.” You get the idea.

Or, picture a hunter describing one of the strange beasts that he hunted in some remote corner of the world in almost any pre-1950s era. With each retelling, the size, strength, and strangeness of the creature is likely to grow – if the hunter is the boastful type.

Contaminated by theology
Modern mythology has fairies as friendly little people with wings. Historical mythology has them as cruel and often evil and frequently deceptive. If a humanoid creature showed up with bat-wings, how do you think people would be likely to respond to it, even in modern times? Or a man with a halo?

Contaminated by truth
Between all these sources of contamination, there will scarcely be an entry anywhere in any published source that is infallibly correct – in a fantasy game, at least. It’s probably closer to the mark to describe these sources as a collection of falsehoods, fantasies, and mistakes, contaminated by the occasional truth.

But I have an advantage over most Americans and Canadians – I was born in Australia. This continental landmass has been separated from the rest of the world for so long that unique forms of life like the Kangaroo, the Koala (Note: They are not bears), and the Platypus have evolved – creatures that seemed fantastic, even fictitious, to explorers. I grew up with the awareness that the real world is not only stranger than people imagined, it was stranger than most people could imagine.

And if all that is true, then what of the player races and their descriptions in the PHB and other sources? How reliable is that information going to be, and how contaminated?

Two maxims

I am always guided in campaign creation, in terms of the creatures that inhabit the world, by five maxims.

  1. Be inspired by the published content in creating the campaign
  2. Be creative and inventive but be internally consistent
  3. Races should always reflect the general theme provided if not the specific details
  4. Change game mechanics only if you absolutely have to
  5. The published content must bend to accommodate the campaign, not vice-versa
The Fantasy Novel Analogy

I always look at each new campaign as being a fantasy novel, perhaps the first in a series of such novels in the same setting. I consider the players to be collaborators, and the game mechanics are a plotting device used to ground the action at some common standard of objective reality. It is absolutely essential to the success of such a project that the world and everything in it be as original and interesting as possible – just to void copyright problems, if nothing else. Because my style is more high fantasy than anything else, there are all sorts of weird creatures to be discovered, but others have gone the low-fantasy road in which only creatures listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica as real actually exist – and all races are actually human – and everything else is myth and PR. I once played in a game in which the Elves were Frenchmen, Humans were British, Dwarves were German, and I forget the rest – but the GM carefully didn’t tell any player this, he left it for them to figure out.

The campaign background

I’m not going to give the entire campaign background here – for one thing, it would run to about 55,000 words, and for another, it was different depending on which race and profession you chose, and for a third reason, it would be somewhat out-of-date, since it describes the campaign world prior to 12 or so years of play. Instead, I’ve cherry-picked descriptive passages from other articles that mention the campaign, and I’ll fill in any blanks as we go along.

The Theology Of Fumanor

You can get most of what you need to know – stripped of the in-game theological mystification – from my recent article, Theology In Fumanor: The collapse of Infinite No-Space-No-Time and other tales of existence. Starting with the creation of this universe (all good mythologies should start with a creation myth) and describing the situation that led to the first campaign and the outcome from it.

Fumanor Campaign I: The Last Deity

The first Fumanor Campaign was all about recovering from the apocalypse that took place a century earlier in the campaign background and discovering the true cause of the collapse of the old Empire. The “Fumanor” part of the title is the name of the Kingdom in which most of the action takes place because the central plotline was the destiny of that Kingdom.

To quote from Grokking The Message: Naming Places & Campaigns,

The players adventured in this campaign for two years before I revealed more than the first part of the name. As a result, they still refer to the Campaign simply as “Fumanor”. I didn’t like withholding the name, but it gave away altogether too much; that said, it took the PCs a lot longer than I expected to reach a point where they could be told the name, by a good couple of years. Initially, the title referred to the quest to name the last Deity of the Pantheon (described in more detail in “The Absence Of Plot Direction” section of my article, A Potpourri Of Quick Solutions: Eight Lifeboats For GM Emergencies)…

Fumanor Campaign II: The Last Deity

To quote again from Grokking The Message: Naming Places & Campaigns,

[The first Fumanor Campaign] had been designed to have a potential sequel campaign with the same characters and with exactly the same name. In this second phase of the campaign, the title referred to the last Deity not to have joined the Pantheon assembled by the PCs, or to the rise of Lolth from lesser being to a Demigod (or better), or both – and implied that it had done so throughout the campaign, since the seeds and clues to both developments had been carefully planted in the course of the first campaign.

Some additional information can be quoted from Been There, Done That, Doing It Again – The Sequel Campaign Part Two of Two: Sprouts and Saplings:

In the course of the second, the Kingdom of Fumanor (for which the campaigns are named) had grown too large for effective administration from a central position; it was being held together by baling wire and good intentions and not much more. On their estates, the Nobility was more or less independent and the situation was ripe for civil war. That war was the big finish to that campaign, and its outcome dramatically increased the size of the Kingdom beyond any hope of central administration; it is falling apart at the seams in the [current] campaigns.


That’s it, I’m out of space for this post! This article will continue next Monday!!

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Orcs & Elves Series:
  1. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
  2. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
  3. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
  4. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
  5. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
  6. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
  7. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
  8. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
  9. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
  10. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
  11. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
  12. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
  13. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
  14. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
  15. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
  16. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
  17. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
  18. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
  19. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
  20. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
  21. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
  22. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
  23. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
  24. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
  25. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
  26. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
  27. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
  28. Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
  29. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
  30. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
  31. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85