Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Cosmology for Erda

After months of running published campaign adventures, the call to create has become too urgent - now is the time to start building a campaign setting and adventures.  When last I got together with my neighborhood group, we had 'The Talk'.  The frank "should we be playing an OSR game or 5E game" talk.  One player was firmly in the OSR camp, one was on the fence, and three were firmly on Team Fifth Edition.  So we're sticking with The Fifth, but we agreed to bring old school gaming elements into it.  Now that's settled, I'm embarking on building a real campaign.

I've got a framework I'm following to build out the sandbox and adventuring region, I'll post about it in the next week or so.  My goal is to make a basic "bog standard" Dark Ages type setting, which has to be high magic to align with the values of the Fifth, and lots of recognizable tropes - Saxons, Vikings, fallen empires, a powerful and omnipresent Church.  The game is less about any unique elements in the setting than it is a few colorful megadungeons.  Which reminds me - the setting is Dark Ages and Vikings so I can ultimately put a version of the Black City there.  Another megadungeon idea that's malingered on my blog for several years was called Harrowhome (now titled Harrowdale) - a haunted ruin out on the moors, cluttered with the detritus of ages past.

My idea for Harrowdale has always involved an artifact from space that plummets to the earth like a meteor, blazing through the atmosphere, burrowing deep into the ground, leaving behind a deep molten shaft.  The thing is a MacGuffin of sorts, a shard of Chaos or seed of primordial evil, a thing that breached our universe from the anti-verse, the egg sack of a nascent Great Old One or future Cthulhu.  A rough beast waiting to be born.  The shaft is discovered by neolithic humans and cave peoples, and rediscovered by the succeeding civilizations that sweep across the land.  There are always death cults, prophets of doom, deranged sorcerers, and similar mad men that discover the ancient shaft on the moors, descend below Harrowdale, and leave their mark on the expanding dungeons.  Meanwhile, the Black Cyst continues to sink into the earth, emanating its dreams of madness and destruction, and growing.  It's been growing in size for more than five millenia.

Church of the Ancient Astronaut
The cosmology of Erda, the world I'm using for Harrowdale and the Black City, is essentially "weird fantasy".  I love 1960's Jack Kirby comics with the Celestials and Eternals, Erich Von Daniken's "ancient astronauts", and HP Lovecraft's Great Old Ones as immortal monsters that plunge from star to star leaving behind ruin and madness.  In recent years I've greatly enjoyed the Thor movies with their science fantasy interpretation of the Nine Realms and Midgard.  Don't they provide a great reference for a D&D cosmology?

Planar Gates don't take you to other dimensions, they open connection points (wormholes) to other planets, folding space and time.  Faerie is a planet that barely spins beneath a green sun; the Unseelie live on the dark side of their planet, haunting icy castles on a hemisphere of eternal night and eternal winter.  Hell is probably a gas giant or some similar massive body, its terrible gravity increasing as a visitor delves deeper into Hell until they reach the 9th circle, a frozen core where movement itself becomes almost impossible due to Hell's unbearable weight.

My equivalent to Rome, an empire I'm tentatively calling Valorum, fell a half millennium ago during an astral conjunction of the planar gates, when the portals to the realms of monsters opened spontaneously and giants of Jotunheim and dragons of Nifleheim freely entered the world of men, wreaking havoc and destruction.  Maybe that's how Elves and Dwarves got into the world, as interlopers.  For the Norse peoples this was Fimbulwinter, the start of Ragnarok and the end times.  For civilization, it was the end of Valorum and the beginning of the Dark Ages.

There are "gods" on some of the other planets that resemble figures of myth and mythology, but they're just powerful monsters.  The angels themselves are a race of space-faring aliens that battle at a breach between our universe and the great beyond (a realm of insanity known as the Tatters).  They act a bit like space cops and fraternal shepherds to the mortal races, although their duties at "the breach" have kept them away from earth for thousands of years.  An early visitation from space established primitive forms of monotheism centered around the Maker, or the Prime, after Aquinas' Prime Mover.

It's an approach to cosmology that well reflects my pop culture interests without doing any lasting harm to D&D's default assumptions.  It's going to be great fun to develop.

*The image is from an actual church in Salamanca, not the fictional planet of Erda


  1. This looks ace. Looking forward to seeing you develop it.

  2. "Faerie is a planet that barely spins beneath a green sun; the Unseelie live on the dark side of their planet, haunting icy castles on a hemisphere of eternal night and eternal winter."

    Mmmm tasty!

  3. The Black City has been very entertaining to read about. I'm excited to hear it mentioned again! If only there was a gazetteer or guide to running it, even incomplete. I would love it

  4. Hey, I've been trying to figure out how to get ahold of you to talk about Black City campaign stuff. Could you email me at williamjdowie_AT_gmail_DOT_com ?

  5. Please please do more Black City content! Kickstart a book for it.

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  7. Checking in. I'm still sad that this hasn't been more developed!