[Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

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[Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Nov 17, 2015 11:11 am

In order to attract players to a setting, there needs to be something distinctive about it. For example,
  • Dragonlance is an epic struggle of good and evil. With dragons and without traditional orcs. Oh, and no gold.
  • Forgotten Realms is high powered magic where every barkeep and his granny is a retired adventurer.
  • Mystara is noted for its "shades of grey" approach to morality and fantasy counterpart countries.
  • Dark Sun is post-apocalypse, magepunk style. With psionics.
  • Planescape is all about the planes and how belief shapes reality.
  • Spelljammer is D&D. In SPAAACE.
  • Eberron is film noir after a massive war. Imagine 1920s Europe with magic and a far more devastating war.
  • Greyhawk and Golarion were distinctive by being the only supported setting. (Greyhawk lost that distinction in the 2e era, and never really recovered).
So, what is Whiteleaf's hook?
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:07 pm

Ashtagon wrote:[*]Dragonlance is an epic struggle of good and evil. With dragons and without traditional orcs. Oh, and no gold.
How the hell does that work?
[*]Mystara is noted for its "shades of grey" approach to morality and fantasy counterpart countries.
I was wondering why it seemed to be so popular around here. I'll definitely have to look into how it handles Alignment.
[*]Planescape is all about the planes and how belief shapes reality.
willpell takes a moment to swoon, like a fairy-tale princess imagining her prince
[*]Greyhawk and Golarion were distinctive by being the only supported setting. (Greyhawk lost that distinction in the 2e era, and never really recovered).
I wouldn't agree that either of these is entirely accurate. Greyhawk has a very distinctive feel to me, although the closest I can come to putting that feel into words at the moment is with the adjective "Gygaxian", and that's not much help. I can probably do better eventually, but for right now I'll save my energy for the question below. As for Golarion, I'm not super-familiar with Pathfinder, but I definitely feel like they went for something fairly specific in crafting this setting. It's got a particular design aesthetic which I really like, and the overall emphasis seems to be less "medieval" than "age of exploration".
So, what is Whiteleaf's hook?
I am so glad you asked. A thorough answer will take some doing (and a succinct, marketable one will take even more doing), but the (relatively, by my standards) 'quick' off-the-cuff elevator speech I'll give you now is this:

"Whiteleaf is a postmodern deconstructionism of fantasy cliches, a self-aware setting inspired by American pop culture as much as by Eurasian mythology, and a meditation on how the meaning of adventure changes when the cosmic scales are weighted to favor Good over Evil in general. Instead of killing orcs and taking their pie, you're trying to explain to them why civilization is preferable to shitting in the woods; instead of cutting down a hellhound who's rampaging through a peasant village, you're trying to stop a demented half-celestial 'savior' from inciting a pointless rebellion among slightly disaffected villagers, against the very authority which is working to improve their lives. As often as not, your battles are fought in the hearts and minds of the innocent, with the very meaning of truth or justice being under siege by villainous infiltrators - and Evil's most effective tactic is to make the Good question whether they're really enjoying their lives, when all they do is selflessly sacrifice for the benefit of those who can never truly understand them. It's a setting that openly embraces the dominance of magic, yet still bends over backwards to make the fighter feel special and to limit the wizard's dominance; sometimes that means nerfing an overpowered spell or banning a particular feat, but wherever possible, Whiteleaf tries to add rather than subtract, incorporating extra details into the workings of every spell and every monster, so that stopping the rampaging Pit Fiend is less about 'having Dismissal prepared' and more about 'successfully recognizing that the Truename you were told was necessary to banish him was a ruse planted by a Far Realm spy, and will actually imbue him with the power of a fallen Fae sorceress who now rules a lost Abyssal splinter as an eldritch goddess'. It features lovingly detailed Locales by the hundreds, with a dozen epic narratives playing out in the background of even the most mundane adventure site; players who pay attention as they work their way through seemingly uneventful areas will discover more plot hooks than they know what to do with, and will constantly brush against the tales of other, equally awesome luminaries who are attempting their own Hero's Journey, despite the fact that they might well be destined to act as the villain in someone else's. Imagine a world that's as vibrantly colorful as the Star Wars prequels, as packed with secret lore as the Marvel and DC comics universes, as down-to-earth in a completely fascinating way as Babylon 5, and as quirkily genre-savvy as Buffy the Vampire Slayer....packing that much detail into a pointillist painting the size of a football stadium, with the players hopscotching from one color-dot to the next, only gradually piecing together the magnificence of the whole."

(Now, tweaking the rules enough to support all that is a very tall order; being founded on 3E rules, Whiteleaf is saddled with a lot of baggage inherent in the system, and making all the mechanical tweaks necessary will likely be the work of literal decades. My current slightly-obnoxious habit of flooding this board with skeletal threads is just a matter of laying the groundwork; I need to erect a scaffold before I can start to assemble a palatial mansion. But the longer I work on it, the stranger and more grandiose it will become, until it resembles a cross between Disneyland, the Alhambra, the Winchester House, and the H.R. Giger Museum. I fully intend to blow minds and change lives, given sufficient time.)

In case it adds any clarity to the above attempt at a coherent description, I will add that my favorite D&D books, the ones which have had the most influence on me as I worked on the setting, were Unearthed Arcana, Tome of Magic (mostly the Binder part), Heroes of Horror, Races of Destiny, Magic of Incarnum, Lords of Madness, Draconomicon, Complete Divine, and the Expanded Psionics Handbook. And, in a sole exception to my 3E focus (which will be joined by Planescape and possibly Council of Wyrms as soon as I actually get my hands on those books, although currently buying any more geekiana is an unacceptible burden upon my lethally-strained real-life budget), the original Monster Manual, which features some of the most brilliant descriptive text I've ever seen (although also some of the stupidest; that kind of tradeoff is exactly why MoI is on the list as well, as I can easily ignore or change the shitty parts, as long as there are enough awesome ones to be worth the bother).

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:29 pm

willpell wrote: "Whiteleaf is a postmodern deconstructionism of fantasy cliches, a self-aware setting inspired by American pop culture as much as by Eurasian mythology, and a meditation on how the meaning of adventure changes when the cosmic scales are weighted to favor Good over Evil in general. Instead of killing orcs and taking their pie, you're trying to explain to them why civilization is preferable to shitting in the woods; instead of cutting down a hellhound who's rampaging through a peasant village, you're trying to stop a demented half-celestial 'savior' from inciting a pointless rebellion among slightly disaffected villagers, against the very authority which is working to improve their lives. As often as not, your battles are fought in the hearts and minds of the innocent, with the very meaning of truth or justice being under siege by villainous infiltrators - and Evil's most effective tactic is to make the Good question whether they're really enjoying their lives, when all they do is selflessly sacrifice for the benefit of those who can never truly understand them. It's a setting that openly embraces the dominance of magic, yet still bends over backwards to make the fighter feel special and to limit the wizard's dominance; sometimes that means nerfing an overpowered spell or banning a particular feat, but wherever possible, Whiteleaf tries to add rather than subtract, incorporating extra details into the workings of every spell and every monster, so that stopping the rampaging Pit Fiend is less about 'having Dismissal prepared' and more about 'successfully recognizing that the Truename you were told was necessary to banish him was a ruse planted by a Far Realm spy, and will actually imbue him with the power of a fallen Fae sorceress who now rules a lost Abyssal splinter as an eldritch goddess'. It features lovingly detailed Locales by the hundreds, with a dozen epic narratives playing out in the background of even the most mundane adventure site; players who pay attention as they work their way through seemingly uneventful areas will discover more plot hooks than they know what to do with, and will constantly brush against the tales of other, equally awesome luminaries who are attempting their own Hero's Journey, despite the fact that they might well be destined to act as the villain in someone else's. Imagine a world that's as vibrantly colorful as the Star Wars prequels, as packed with secret lore as the Marvel and DC comics universes, as down-to-earth in a completely fascinating way as Babylon 5, and as quirkily genre-savvy as Buffy the Vampire Slayer....packing that much detail into a pointillist painting the size of a football stadium, with the players hopscotching from one color-dot to the next, only gradually piecing together the magnificence of the whole."
458 words. 6 sentences. 1 paragraph.

Average of 76.3 words per sentence. (Most editors recommend aiming for 15-20 words per sentence).

Flesch reading ease 15.1
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 23.7

That grade level indicates the text shouldn't really be attempted by anyone who is not a university graduate. If you want to get people involved in your setting, you might want to simplify your English.
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:36 pm

That grade level indicates the text shouldn't really be attempted by anyone who is not a university graduate. If you want to get people involved in your setting, you might want to simplify your English.
It's very hard for me not to take that criticism as "you're too smart, dumb this down". I'm unapologetically an intellectual elitist; I recognize that sometimes I go too far, and obfuscate the meaning in what I'm saying, so much that even the smartest person may lose patience with trying to distinguish between the clever and the obtuse. But I have no intention to try and shorten that writeup by more than 20-30%, just the amount of tweaking necessary to turn it from a student thesis into an enjoyable pop-science read. I absolutely do not plan to make a "for dummies" version; you should need to have decent reading-comprehension skill to enjoy the kind of thing I'm interested in creating.

Oh, and by the way, I'm NOT a university graduate myself, nor even an enrollee. So thanks for confirming that I write better than society assumes I possibly could; it's a useful reminder of why society's assumptions stink.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:51 pm

I'm not asking for a "for dummies" version. I am asking for a "for normal people" version. I'm taking a wild guess that you want people to play in your setting. If you write it so that even the sales pitch requires a degree level education to understand, you won't get many players. Even with my masters level education, I am frankly too lazy to use that much brainpower on what is supposed to be a relaxing and fun hobby and not serious mental exercise.

Decent reading comprehension is of course relative. Your introductory text's score was 23.7. According to wikipedia,

[b]Score[/b] | [b]Description[/b] 90-100 | easily understood by an average 11-year-old student 60-70 | easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students (average 6th grade student's written assignment) 65 | [i]Reader's Digest[/i] magazine 57.9 | [i]Moby Dick[/i] 52 | [i]Time[/i] magazine 45 | Florida requires that life insurance policies have a Flesch reading ease score of 45 or greater. 30-35 | [i]Harvard Law Review[/i] 23.7 | Your text 0-30 | best understood by university graduates

Now, given this is supposed to be a thing people do for fun, when your text is officially harder to read than the Harvard Law Review, and so complicated that Florida would consider it illegal for certain documents, I suspect the problem is your writing, not your readers. This is intended as constructive criticism by the way. By making your writing more accessible, you will receive more feedback, because more people will be willing to read it.
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:06 pm

Here's 20 questions you might usefully answer: http://jrients.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/t ... -your.html

And 20 more: http://monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogs ... s-for.html (these ones aren't so serious; they're more about players asking how they can "break" the setting)
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by ripvanwormer » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:11 pm

Ashtagon wrote:[*]Forgotten Realms is high powered magic where every barkeep and his granny is a retired adventurer.
That sounds more like a sick burn than something that attracts players to the setting. And it's not even true across all eras of the Realms—there's little that's particularly high magic about the original Gray Box, for example. The thing that attracts players to the Forgotten Realms is that it's been used in popular novels and video games, not anything fundamental to the setting in itself. And before that, the thing that attracted TSR to the setting was that Ed Greenwood had mentioned it in a lot of the articles he had written for Dragon Magazine. There is little about the Forgotten Realms on its own that's distinctive or special. Its use as the default AD&D setting in late 1st edition, early 2nd edition, and now 5th edition has made it a lot less unique and special, since it's absorbed so much generic D&D baggage, influencing the evolution of D&D just as the evolution of D&D has influenced it. Probably the most distinctive, or at least the most useful, thing about the Realms is the extraordinary amount of detail the setting has accumulated over the decades. No other RPG setting (except those set on something like historical Earth) has such exhaustively detailed pantheons, such extensively mapped underworlds, so many pages dedicated to fleshing out the history of millennia and tens of millennia past.

On the other hand, Mystara—with its fleets of airships, council of 1,000 36th-level magic-users, floating continents, hollow world, and PCs questing for Immortality—was very much marketed as the high-powered magic setting during the era when TSR was flailing about trying to keep it relevant and saleable after the classic D&D line ended (they eventually settled on trying to make it "beginner-level D&D" before closing the line for good). But that setting, too, isn't really a high-powered magic setting in all of its eras of publication; that's something that developed over time, and was later emphasized as a way to make it stand out from the crowd. I think there's something to the idea that relative morality is a distinctive trope in the setting—Mystara is a place where the orcs of Thar and shadow elves can be either the heroes or villains—but this was never anything TSR used as a way to attract players.

I've seen an essay arguing that Greyhawk's distinctive trait is its "Grey" morality, meaning its emphasis on balance rather than the triumph of Good over Evil, but I don't think that tracks. Certainly it wasn't what the setting was about during the From the Ashes era, and although it is ultimately what the Gord novels were about, there's nothing in the original folio or boxed set that directs people to play it that way. In any case, this was a stronger theme in Dragonlance. Any arguments that Greyhawk has anything truly distinctive about it that makes it stand out from other generic D&D settings are countered by the fact that TSR (and WotC) never really knew what to do with it after Gygax was pushed out. In the late '80s and early '90s, all they could say was "This is where the wizards the spells in the Player's Handbook are named after live" before they tried to reinvent it as grimdark fantasy in the From the Ashes era. The 1998 era emphasized that Greyhawk was the world of old-school gaming, full of deadly dungeons and classic modules, and that's probably the best attempt at giving Greyhawk a recognizable niche (though this is also true of Mystara and, to a degree, the Forgotten Realms too). I think a lot of times when someone says they prefer Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms, they're really saying they prefer the "1st edition feel" (to quote Necromancer Games' slogan) to the 2nd edition feel.

When it comes down to it, Mystara's initial mission statement was simply to be a generic enough place that all the classic D&D modules could fit in. Greyhawk's initial mission statement was simply to be a generic place to fit the 1st edition AD&D modules (and, to a lesser extent, to fit the references to Gary Gygax's home campaign that he had scattered throughout his writings). The Forgotten Realms was purchased by post-Gygax TSR so that they would have a place to put generic modules that wasn't Greyhawk. Golarion is meant to be general enough so that it can fit any sort of Pathfinder adventure. It has its own quirks, but if it had tried to stretch itself too far beyond D&D norms, players wouldn't have accepted it. None of them were ever meant to be special or distinctive; not being special or distinctive, in fact, is what's most useful about them. It's the reason why they're capable of doing the jobs they were initially intended to do.

Kingdoms of Kalamar is a solid setting, but Kenzer's own marketing just brags about how good they think their map is. Like Greyhawk, Mystara, Golarion, Nentir Vale, and the Forgotten Realms, it's just meant to be a decent structure to hold a variety of generic adventures, not to be a distinctive place in its own right.

Dragonlance was TSR's first attempt at creating a setting that was truly distinctive. Its unique flavor—its non-standard races, its post-apocalyptic environment, its iron-based economy, the epic dance of its three factions of gods, its beloved novels—is what draws players to it, but at the same time it makes Krynn a harder place to shoehorn generic modules into. Its primary strength, then, is also its primary weakness. You play Dragonlance because you want to play Dragonlance, not because Krynn offers a superior venue for playing Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, or Rise of the Runelords.

Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Al-Qadim, Planescape, Red Steel, Birthright, and Eberron were all attempts at creating settings built to fit specific genres or styles of play, and while they're all attractive to varying degrees for those looking for those specific styles or genres, they're less useful for someone who's just looking for a spot on the map to insert Gates of Firestorm Peak or Red Hand of Doom. Of those, Eberron was the setting that tried the hardest to have it both ways—to provide a genuinely different spin on each D&D trope while still finding a place on its map for every D&D monster, prestige class, and adventure locale.

But I think that, insofar as "generic D&D" is still the most popular D&D sub-genre, it can be true that trying to make a D&D setting unique or distinctive in order to attract players can actually damage its ability to attract players.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Nov 17, 2015 6:00 pm

Ashtagon wrote:I'm not asking for a "for dummies" version. I am asking for a "for normal people" version.
Well even "normal" borders on an insult in my personal lexicon, but I do get your point. I absolutely do not want to appeal to a really wide mass market, but I should be aiming for a slightly less narrow niche than I am. This is exactly why I did a Volunteer Editor Solicitation (very thoroughly disclaimering what a thankless job it would be; I am nothing if not brutally honest at my own detriment, even more than that of others) on the article I wrote about "why would you be that alignment", for each of the six major alignment forces which may or may not actually exist in Whiteleaf (the traditional four, plus Nature and a putative opposite thereof, neither of which quite works as the big four do, with monster subtypes and Magic Circle Against spells and such, although such things might be possible to research in-game eventually).
Even with my masters level education, I am frankly too lazy to use that much brainpower on what is supposed to be a relaxing and fun hobby and not serious mental exercise.
Now that is certainly logic which I respect. Personally, though, I find the D&D text books (particularly in editions older than 3) difficult to read, whereas the stuff I've written here would be easy and enjoyable for me to read, even if I had not myself written it. It is at least theoretically designed as a sort of prose waterslide, meant to inundate you and carry you along on a wild and slippery ride with many twists and turns, as long as you don't mind getting thoroughly soaked. Writing a "hydrophobic" version, for consumption by people whose brain doesn't work the way mine does (including those whose brain works the way Gary Gygax's must have when he was writing those encounter tables and THAC0 charts), would be incredibly challenging to me; I'd rather find someone else who speaks both "languages" and is willing to do some translating.
table snipped
So my text is more highfalutin' than Moby Dick or even a bunch of law-school documents? You have no idea how much that does for my ego.
This is intended as constructive criticism by the way. By making your writing more accessible, you will receive more feedback, because more people will be willing to read it.
Oh, I get that, absolutely. I'm very happy to have captured your attention, and certainly don't want to drive you away. That's why I carefully stopped my urge to rant above, and said "it's very tempting for me to take this as an insult" instead of "how dare you insult me". I really appreciate the feedback you are providing, in exactly the spirit you provide it.

Responses to the two subsequent posts will come after my lunch (potentially meaning in a half hour, but just as possibly not until tomorrow).

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by RobJN » Tue Nov 17, 2015 6:54 pm

Ashtagon wrote:...your text is officially harder to read than the Harvard Law Review, and so complicated that Florida would consider it illegal for certain documents
Best. Cover blurb. Evar.
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Nov 17, 2015 8:06 pm

ripvanwormer wrote:That sounds more like a sick burn than something that attracts players to the setting. And it's not even true across all eras of the Realms.
Heheh. The Realms is one of the two existing settings which I describe as being most nearly similar to Whiteleaf, along with Eberron, although there are huge differences in both cases. What I love about FR is how incredibly deep the lore is; what I hate about FR is the lore itself. There is SO much material to delve into, and if I were unabashedly "into" everything about this one setting, I probably wouldn't ever need any others (particularly not if I stapled Planescape onto it - the reason Planescape doesn't make the list along with these two is that it's too highly specific, but its modularity means that it's technically part of every other campaign setting that doesn't specifically exclude it, although I don't like the idea that it can exist in a vacuum and not be influenced by the things that touch it, in a way that would eventually destroy it). But I'm NOT "into" everything about the Realms; I am very thoroughly "out of" a number of critical setting details (the most important one being the idea that atheists and agnostics, or later just apostates but even that is bad enough, are punished with eternal suffering by the Good and Evil gods alike; closely following this is the whole Elminster Greenwood thing, which I've already complained about somewhere else).
The thing that attracts players to the Forgotten Realms is that it's been used in popular novels and video games, not anything fundamental to the setting in itself. And before that, the thing that attracted TSR to the setting was that Ed Greenwood had mentioned it in a lot of the articles he had written for Dragon Magazine. There is little about the Forgotten Realms on its own that's distinctive or special. Its use as the default AD&D setting in late 1st edition, early 2nd edition, and now 5th edition has made it a lot less unique and special, since it's absorbed so much generic D&D baggage, influencing the evolution of D&D just as the evolution of D&D has influenced it. Probably the most distinctive, or at least the most useful, thing about the Realms is the extraordinary amount of detail the setting has accumulated over the decades. No other RPG setting (except those set on something like historical Earth) has such exhaustively detailed pantheons, such extensively mapped underworlds, so many pages dedicated to fleshing out the history of millennia and tens of millennia past.
Presented without additional comment.
On the other hand, Mystara—with its fleets of airships, council of 1,000 36th-level magic-users, floating continents, hollow world, and PCs questing for Immortality—was very much marketed as the high-powered magic setting during the era when TSR was flailing about trying to keep it relevant and saleable after the classic D&D line ended (they eventually settled on trying to make it "beginner-level D&D" before closing the line for good).
Boy is that ever a schizophrenic pair of directions to try and take the same line in....
I've seen an essay arguing that Greyhawk's distinctive trait is its "Grey" morality, meaning its emphasis on balance rather than the triumph of Good over Evil, but I don't think that tracks.
Agreed, I don't feel as if that's accurate. Thinking a bit more about it, I think what feels most Greyhawkian to me is a particularly keen emphasis on certain parts of the lore as being most definitional. If my understanding is correct, EGG's campaign started out in Castle Greyhawk itself, and a lot of early adventures revolved around a small handful of important figures, mostly high-level wizard Author Avatars or malevolent sorceresses (who very possibly originated in Gary's wet dreams - I say that with no intention whatsoever that it should be taken as an attempt at stigmatizing the man, whatever his other faults might have been) who functioned as "godder-than-gods", in terms of the shadow that they cast over later adventures. Zagyg, Mordenkainen, Tasha/Iggwiliv, Acererak - each of these figures started out as some silly little thing that Gary made up in order to silence some protest or demand for information from his players (in much the same way that he answered "what gods can my cleric worship" by making up two gods, one who denies the existence of any others, and one who thumps people on the head when they ask stupid questions), and then he just kept adding layers upon layers of extra information to each of those details, like an oyster turning an irritating grain of sand into a lustrous pearl by just constantly covering it up with more and more nacre. There are so many examples of these kinds of impromptu-grandfathering - collect-me artifacts like the Rod of Seven Parts inspiring huge sweeping cosmologies about "Wind Dukes" battling now-extinct races of demons, bags of half-melted Chinese plastic dinosaurs turning into the game's most iconic (if occasionally moronic) monsters, and even the Castle and City of Greyhawk themselves being largely inspired by Gary's childhood in Chicago. It just seems to be the defining methodology of how he operated - he never subtracted any of the details he added, never contradicted any of his first-impulse ideas that had become fixed in the minds of his players, even if they were kinda stupid; he just counted on their memories to keep bringing them back, and so took every opportunity to remind them of details he'd already established, while slowly building in more and more novelty.

Whiteleaf started out as my attempt at expanding on Greyhawk lore, and eventually when I started to contradict it too much, I came up with the idea that Greyhawk (or rather a nearly identical parallel version of it, the "O'Earth" to its "Oerth", and thus part of the same sequence of alternate-history-fantasy Earths as Aerth and Yarth, but much closer to both Earth and Oerth than to any of the others, since I wasn't at all familiar with any of them) had been destroyed, and Whiteleaf was recreated by the fugitive gods who were its last survivors, in an attempt to fix its mistakes and ensure themselves a stable continuing supply of worshippers. For much of the time that 4E was out, I was thinking I might publish Whiteleaf as "the last OGL product" and keep it fully 3E compatible; now that we're up to 5E, that seems like a totally absurd notion. And thus, I've been moving more toward the idea of publishing it as a distinct product with non-D&D rules, which would require a psychotic amount of conversion work, but even more painfully I'd have to somehow excise all but the barest traces of Greyhawk influence upon it, in an attempt to ensure that I can't be sued for putting it out. (This very post may well be shooting that effort in the foot, but I'll risk it; I don't think I'll ever be able to get away with disguising all the influences, so calling attention to them and asking for help disambiguating away from existing IPs is probably a wiser route - certainly one more consistent with my ethics.)

Thusly, my strategy in building Whiteleaf has been similar to how Greyhawk grew into being (and perhaps the Realms as well, though they seem different to me somehow - maybe the Realms is less like an oyster and more like the ocean floor, which grows by sedimentation and fossilization in a vaguely analogous manner). With one important exception - Gary seemingly never changed any of his old ideas, no matter how obvious it became that they had been bad (at least not on the worldbuilding side; mechanics he was probably a bit more willing to innovate with). Whereas I've done nothing but take an eraser and a bottle of White-Out to a lot of the facepalmingly silly things that became treasured and often-referenced tropes of the setting, and used the empty space created by partly or completely excising them to write entire new novels about why the things I didn't change remain true. For instance, Rust Monsters are just an inherently silly concept, which Gary introduced in order to thwart his players' accumulation of powerful treasure; I don't use them (sorry Rusty darling; you and your Company are the exception that proves the rule). But one of the other ideas he invented, as part of that same initiative, was the Drow and their Shadowcraft items - the entire race of Drow exists solely because Gary wanted to have his adventurer players ambushed by something exactly the same as themselves, but didn't want to risk doubling their treasure in one swell foop, so he made up the notion of items that vanished when exposed to sunlight, and then came up with a rationale of why anyone would invent such items, and worked backward until he had the entire backstory of how the Drow followed Lolth into the Underdark and she proceeded to turn herself into a half-spider monstrosity, instructing her entire species to follow in her footsteps, exterminate their non-corrupted kindred and Good beings in general, and eventually invent a way to solidify shadows into weapons which would dissolve if they fell into enemy hands. The shadowcraft weapons are almost as stupid an idea as rust monsters, and Whiteleaf makes at most very minimal use of them. But the Drow, while they have significantly questionable aspects to their backstory, are overall an amazingly cool idea, and I'm only too happy to run with their use while constantly tweaking them to my preference. (For example, I got rid of Lolth; the current default is that she eventually stopped being Evil and decimated her own former worshippers when she found they were still using her name behind her back, and they continue to be evil in her absence, worshipping Evil itself under a more flattering term and continuing to emulate spiders and venerate them as the ultimate form of life, all while being terrified to so much as mention their former deity's name, lest it piss her off enough to come back and finish them off. But if I needed to cut ties with Greyhawk entirely, I could just leave Lolth out of their backstory and invent some other reason why the Drow first emigrated to the Underdark, while I would definitely not leave out the Drow altogether...any of the aspects of their society which don't quite make sense, I'll either explain away with some fascinating nugget of philosophy or setting history, or else just change to suit my preferences.)

Incidentally Ashtagon, you forgot to mention Blackmoor, which was the very first D&D campaign setting, and thus could be lumped into the same "only game in town at the time" category as Greyhawk and Golarion. But even in that case, Blackmoor seems to have highly distinctive touches, notably in that it might be the single most sci-fi influenced of all these "fantasy" settings, since much of the early lore revolved around a crashed spaceship being looted for super-technology which served as much of the "magic" of the setting.
Any arguments that Greyhawk has anything truly distinctive about it that makes it stand out from other generic D&D settings are countered by the fact that TSR (and WotC) never really knew what to do with it after Gygax was pushed out.
Guess they should have hired me, assuming I traveled back in time to the right moment with a copy of the text above....
The 1998 era emphasized that Greyhawk was the world of old-school gaming, full of deadly dungeons and classic modules, and that's probably the best attempt at giving Greyhawk a recognizable niche
I remember once seeing an ad in a gaming magazine with a pointy-hatted, starry-robed purple wizard asking "What the %#$@ is a Baatezu", in reference to this concept. But ultimately, non-TSR/Hasborg entities, notably Necromancer Games, have committed themselves to this direction much more than the main company was ever willing to do, having dealt with how much flak they were capable of getting if they ignored the mundane majority's opinion of the hobby which was their sole bailiwick, when they had a Board of Directors that needed to get paid. Smaller houses have more freedom to act in a potentially controversial fashion, and even though they may be publishing out of their garage in order to pay the rent every month, they still seem to be more comfortable taking risks than any large corporation has ever been.
Dragonlance was TSR's first attempt at creating a setting that was truly distinctive. Its unique flavor—its non-standard races, its post-apocalyptic environment, its iron-based economy, the epic dance of its three factions of gods, its beloved novels—is what draws players to it, but at the same time it makes Krynn a harder place to shoehorn generic modules into. Its primary strength, then, is also its primary weakness. You play Dragonlance because you want to play Dragonlance, not because Krynn offers a superior venue for playing Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, or Rise of the Runelords.
Ah, there's the answer to my earlier question. I've also heard Dragonlance described as an attempt at doing a more Middle-Earth-like version of D&D, which obviously took substantial inspiration from Tolkien in the first place, but apparently some purists wanted something closer, while not wanting to actually play the officially-published Middle-Earth RPG (for reasons that might or might not have involved rules conflicts). Regardless, virtually everything I have ever heard about Dragonlance has been a negative in my eyes; I loot the 3E CS book for rules, but have pretty near zero interest in every roleplaying in a world that includes the Kender (to name only the single worst of my many, many such objections).
Red Steel
I've never heard of this one.
Of those, Eberron was the setting that tried the hardest to have it both ways—to provide a genuinely different spin on each D&D trope while still finding a place on its map for every D&D monster, prestige class, and adventure locale.
Right, and that's one of the things that I think it fails worst at. But there's a reason I list Eberron as the other "neighbor" to Whiteleaf besides FR, and it's not because I want to precisely replicate its design ethos while breaking its "everything must be included" rule. I outright stole the concept of the Quori as one of the cornerstones of my cosmology (the Lords of Dream are not evil, but then the Quori are only evil temporarily, since it's in their nature to shift from good to bad - and if I'm allowed to openly acknowledge that connection in a Whiteleaf game, then the risk of the Lords of Dream becoming evil is a great example of the kind of apocalyptic danger that makes a fine plot hook), and while I don't go as far as Eberron does in moving away from the interventionist gods and fantastic racism of previous editions, I definitely do move away from them. Whiteleaf has gods, but it doesn't have stats for the gods allowing you to hunt them down and kill them; it has Black dragons that are (virtually) always evil and Gold dragons that are (virtually) always good, but it also has a much more nuanced view of exactly what Good and Evil mean, and it certainly has non-evil Orcs and non-good Gnomes and so forth.
But I think that, insofar as "generic D&D" is still the most popular D&D sub-genre, it can be true that trying to make a D&D setting unique or distinctive in order to attract players can actually damage its ability to attract players.
And this is exactly why I think attracting players isn't the most important thing. Better to be obscure and unique than famous for your mediocrity.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Saltwater1 » Tue Nov 17, 2015 9:27 pm

I am going to admit right now, I have no idea what on Earth is going on.

I was told this was going to be a discussion about Whiteleaf, and it seems to have turned into an argument of some sort. Willpell, thanks for the invite, but I think I'll back off...
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Nov 17, 2015 9:34 pm

willpell wrote:Incidentally Ashtagon, you forgot to mention Blackmoor, which was the very first D&D campaign setting, and thus could be lumped into the same "only game in town at the time" category as Greyhawk and Golarion. But even in that case, Blackmoor seems to have highly distinctive touches, notably in that it might be the single most sci-fi influenced of all these "fantasy" settings, since much of the early lore revolved around a crashed spaceship being looted for super-technology which served as much of the "magic" of the setting.
I did not forget. I simply chose not to mention it in that short list. There's dozens more that could have been on that list, but which I chose not to include. The purpose of the list wasn't, after all, to give an accounting of every D&D setting in a sentence or two. The purpose was to illustrate how it is possible to capture enough of the flavour of a setting in no more than three very short sentences. I had hoped to elicit by example a similar description of your setting.
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:10 pm

Saltwater1 wrote:I am going to admit right now, I have no idea what on Earth is going on.
I was told this was going to be a discussion about Whiteleaf, and it seems to have turned into an argument of some sort. Willpell, thanks for the invite, but I think I'll back off...
It's not an "argument", it's a "debate". If it's TLDR, that's fine, but I had no rancor at all while posting any of this, nor do I detect any in the posts of others (I am admittedly fairly bad at this). We're just bandying about contrasting opinions in an effort to get to the truth, and/or simply to enjoy the discussion.
Ashtagon wrote:I did not forget
OK fair enough.
I had hoped to elicit by example a similar description of your setting.
Okay, sure, I'll keep working on coming up with one. But hopefully the amount people (well, at least one person besides me) had to say, about how those settings are more than just what you described, reinforces the point that shorter is not always better. It's very easy to summarize any subject in a short soundbyte, as long as you're comfortable with the possibility that what you said might be less than completely accurate (or flat-out wrong, or anywhere in between), and certainly doesn't represent the whole scope of what is or might be worth knowing. But such generalizations can go wrong pretty quickly, turning into the likes of offensive ethnic caricatures, or out-of-context reviewer quotes used in promotional material. Thusly, I'm not going to toss one out until I've really thought about what I want it to say. The one that I presented above was an attempt at being extremely brief and to the point; obviously I need to take another pass to make it punchier than that, but it will take some work.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by ripvanwormer » Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:47 pm

willpell wrote: If my understanding is correct, EGG's campaign started out in Castle Greyhawk itself, and a lot of early adventures revolved around a small handful of important figures, mostly high-level wizard Author Avatars or malevolent sorceresses (who very possibly originated in Gary's wet dreams - I say that with no intention whatsoever that it should be taken as an attempt at stigmatizing the man, whatever his other faults might have been) who functioned as "godder-than-gods", in terms of the shadow that they cast over later adventures. Zagyg, Mordenkainen, Tasha/Iggwiliv, Acererak - each of these figures started out as some silly little thing that Gary made up in order to silence some protest or demand for information from his players...
Mordenkainen was Gary Gygax's PC, whom he played when Rob Kuntz was DMing in his Kalibruhn setting (and also, once, in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor setting; Mordenkainen and Rob Kuntz's PC Robilar adventuring together on that occasion was something that normally couldn't happen because Robilar was from Greyhawk and Mordenkainen was from Kalibruhn, and one character could only be played while the other player was DMing). He wasn't, then, originally a Greyhawk character as such, but he was imported into the campaign when it was published. Iggwilv was originally, in the tournament version of S4, a male wizard responsible for depositing the treasures within the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, but was retconned as female when the Lost Caverns module was printed for general audiences. As she's often (she can shapeshift) portrayed as a hideous hag in Gygax's writings, I don't think it's fair to say that she originated in his wet dreams. She's a quintessential "evil witch" figure.

Tasha was a little girl who wrote Gygax letters in crayon; he decided to name the Hideous Laughter spell after her as an homage. Making Tasha the same person as Iggwilv was a much later retcon by Erik Mona, who had the idea that "Natasha the Dark," from Roger E. Moore's Baba Yaga adventure, was an earlier version of Iggwilv.
There are so many examples of these kinds of impromptu-grandfathering - collect-me artifacts like the Rod of Seven Parts inspiring huge sweeping cosmologies about "Wind Dukes" battling now-extinct races of demons
This was Erik Mona and James Jacobs' retcon. Greyhawk, like many long-running franchises (Doctor Who, Marvel Comics, etc.) has the phenomenon of young fans growing up to become creators of new material, with a predictable obsession with continuity that the original creators didn't have.
It just seems to be the defining methodology of how he operated - he never subtracted any of the details he added
While some things stayed the same, a lot of his work was subject to constant revision (for example, the number, names, and arrangement of the planes varied and continued to be reshuffled in his Dangerous Journeys cosmology, which included some of the changes he made to the planes in his Gord the Rogue books), and the only reason it wasn't revised more was that he was kicked out of the company. Everything became sort of fossilized in amber at that point, with few of his successors daring to make many changes to his work.

The published World of Greyhawk setting was deliberately very different in some ways from his original home game. Although some things were drawn from it (the names of some of the gods, the existence of a Castle Greyhawk and a Temple of Elemental Evil) the shape of the land and names of the countries varied radically from what they had been when he was first playing.
Incidentally Ashtagon, you forgot to mention Blackmoor, which was the very first D&D campaign setting, and thus could be lumped into the same "only game in town at the time" category as Greyhawk and Golarion.
Blackmoor was the only game in town for Dave Arneson's first players, but as a published setting First Fantasy Campaign came out the same year (1977) as the Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting. I'm not sure which came first (the name implies that Blackmoor was first, but I'm not sure), but they were both originally published by Judges Guild and designed to work together, so those who purchased one would have soon been able to purchase the other and choose which setting they liked the best. Both had some strong sci-fi influences, though I think Blackmoor's were more prominent.

As a TSR setting, DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor wasn't published until 1986, when there were many other settings to choose from. It was retconned to exist in the distant past of the D&D Known World (later called Mystara).
I've never heard of this one.
Red Steel is a Mystara sub-setting that originated in Bruce Heard's "Voyage of the Princess Ark" articles in Dragon Magazine. It was published as a separate line in the 2nd edition era. Distinctive elements include an emphasis on swashbuckling 18th-century adventure, the presence of gunpowder, some American West-inspired nations, anthropomorphic animals as player character races, and a mysterious radiation that transforms characters into X-Men-style mutants.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Wed Nov 18, 2015 2:12 pm

[quote="ripvanwormer]Mordenkainen was Gary Gygax's PC, whom he played when Rob Kuntz was DMing in his Kalibruhn setting (and also, once, in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor setting; Mordenkainen and Rob Kuntz's PC Robilar adventuring together on that occasion was something that normally couldn't happen because Robilar was from Greyhawk and Mordenkainen was from Kalibruhn, and one character could only be played while the other player was DMing). He wasn't, then, originally a Greyhawk character as such, but he was imported into the campaign when it was published.[/quote]

Never heard the name Kalibruhn before; does it have enough uniqueness about it to merit special attention as a CS, or did it pretty much completely amalgamate into GH?
Iggwilv was originally, in the tournament version of S4, a male wizard responsible for depositing the treasures within the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, but was retconned as female when the Lost Caverns module was printed for general audiences. As she's often (she can shapeshift) portrayed as a hideous hag in Gygax's writings, I don't think it's fair to say that she originated in his wet dreams. She's a quintessential "evil witch" figure.
Hm, I remembered her being described as a beautiful seductress...maybe that was just while shapeshifted.
Tasha was a little girl who wrote Gygax letters in crayon; he decided to name the Hideous Laughter spell after her as an homage. Making Tasha the same person as Iggwilv was a much later retcon by Erik Mona, who had the idea that "Natasha the Dark," from Roger E. Moore's Baba Yaga adventure, was an earlier version of Iggwilv.
Ah...wonder how the IRL Tasha feels about her laughter being "hideous" now and forever, even when used in the most innocuous contexts....
This was Erik Mona and James Jacobs' retcon. Greyhawk, like many long-running franchises (Doctor Who, Marvel Comics, etc.) has the phenomenon of young fans growing up to become creators of new material, with a predictable obsession with continuity that the original creators didn't have.
I see....

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Wed Nov 18, 2015 2:26 pm

Here's another attempt at answering the OP's question, taken from this post; the first two paragraphs of that one will contextualize the following line, and another bit of info follows it, but here I present it in isolation and without further comment.

It is a distinctly postmodern setting which lovingly lampshades tropes, punctures cliches, pushes the envelope and creates a whole new paradigm of fantasy adventure.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by ripvanwormer » Thu Nov 19, 2015 2:18 am

willpell wrote:Never heard the name Kalibruhn before; does it have enough uniqueness about it to merit special attention as a CS, or did it pretty much completely amalgamate into GH?
Here's Robert Kuntz's Kalibruhn page. This other page describes the evolution of Kuntz's campaign better, though; initially there was no conception that Kuntz's El Raja Key campaign and Gygax's Greyhawk campaign existed on separate worlds, and PCs like Murlynd and Terik moved freely between one and the other. Kuntz later became the co-DM of the Greyhawk campaign, and they officially merged. El Raja Key equates to what later became Castle Maure in the Duchy of Urnst. He began conceptualizing Kalibruhn as a separate world, accessible from Oerth only through magical mists far in the ocean, later on. There are definitely elements from Kuntz's original campaign that made their way into Greyhawk, but Kalibruhn would eventually become a very different place.
Hm, I remembered her being described as a beautiful seductress...maybe that was just while shapeshifted.
Here's how she's described in Gary Gygax's novel Artifact of Evil, page 328:

Iggwilv shook her head. "Not so fast, my prodigal. Is that any way for a devoted son to speak to his Dear Mother?" Even as she uttered this admonition, the ancient crone, one who had appeared a parody of every child's nightmare of a wicked witch, changed. Her features flowed and changed as her body grew and straightened. Scraggly, gray locks became flowing tresses of hair like spun gold, and face and form matched the radiance of this golden head.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Wed Nov 25, 2015 11:21 pm

To take another crack at answering the original question, I'll just quote the Introduction to the Manuscript I've written, and give you the four phrases which are meant to describe what Whiteleaf is all about:

* Incredible Scope
* Constant Innovation
* Subtle Intrigue
* Strange Magnificence

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Jan 05, 2016 2:32 am

How's this for a hook? I think it's accurate to say that Whiteleaf is the most "American" D&D setting ever created.

Greyhawk may have had its map drawn over an outline of the USA's home continent, but its version of fantasy roleplaying is still very firmly rooted in medieval European cliches. Very few alternatives to this have been proposed, and almost all of them are equally antique, just founded on a different part of the world. I don't know of any who draw at least a good third of their total creative inspirations from American lore and pop culture. There isn't exactly a Wild West, a Civil War, a Cold War, or a Hollywood (meaning not just "movies", since the contents of those have probably influenced every RPG sourcebook ever written, but rather "the workings of the movie-making industry as it exists in the real world") in Whiteleaf, but all of those things are definitely chopped up into the pot where my creation has been stewing.

My nomenclature in particular is founded very firmly in modern (well, almost modern; I'm not up on the latest teenage slang) American English, with a fair bit of British English and even Ye Olde Pre-Chaucerian English, but almost none of the kind of formal University linguistics that Tolkien applied to his creation. You might like the result or you might hate it, but I think you'd be hard pressed to consider it "generic", or "little different" from the other worlds of D&D (except where it's intentionally imitating them, mostly for the sake of plug-and-play compatibility - I could have left Dwarves out of Whiteleaf entirely, but a lot of players want to play Dwarves, so instead I tried to make some very interesting and different Dwarves, taking inspiration from a lot of different sources that Tolkien never considered).

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Saltwater1 » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:41 pm

willpell wrote:To take another crack at answering the original question, I'll just quote the Introduction to the Manuscript I've written, and give you the four phrases which are meant to describe what Whiteleaf is all about:

* Incredible Scope
* Constant Innovation
* Subtle Intrigue
* Strange Magnificence
I like this one, and the paragraph you wrote next. What is this manuscript? A sort of lore bible of [Whiteleaf]?
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:48 pm

Saltwater1 wrote: I like this one, and the paragraph you wrote next. What is this manuscript? A sort of lore bible of [Whiteleaf]?
No, it was literally intended to be the Campaign Setting book, equivalent to those published for Forgotten Realms, Eberron and Dragonlance, although I don't anticipate much hope of my ever finishing the thing at the moment. Still, I do have at least ten pages written which are more or less usable as-is.

EDIT - I should clarify that when I say Whiteleaf is American-style, I should add that it is inspired less by what America actually is, in the current economic climate and geopolitical system, and more by what America likes to believe itself to be. The legendry and self-aware pop-culture of this country is most of what's influencing Whiteleaf; the Empire is based upon a speculative notion of what America would be like, if it were more firmly committed to living up to its own press (and if it were in a fantasy kingdom, with a government which is much more nearly feudal than democratic, though still less feudal than most of its rivals). There's no "manifest destiny" here, no forcible resettlement of the indigineous tribes as the country expands, no slave plantations, no McCarthyist witch-hunts. But there are a lot of things that are indirectly inspired by the way America reacted to those dark chapters in its own history, trying to rationalize them away or to ensure against letting the country repeat these mistakes (and instead it went on to make entirely new ones). Such responses are reframed in the context of a new reality...things which were motivated in reality by post-Vietnam guilt or the social pressures of the Baby Boom are instead tied to the activity of gods and monstrous races, leaving the Empire genuinely not at fault, but the social upshot is often similar.

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Themes of Whiteleaf

Post by willpell » Fri Mar 11, 2016 5:08 pm

There are numerous narrative themes that appear repeatedly in Whiteleaf. Here is a non-exhaustive list.

1. Change is inevitable; attempts to forestall it nearly always succumb to complexity creep and become destructive to their own original purpose. (This is a variant on Pournelle's Iron Law; the benevolent powers of the universe fight tirelessly against it, but are likely doomed to fail ultimately.)

2. Good and Evil are intertwined symbiotically; the two are often indistinguishable, and an excess of one likely gives rise to the other, while attempts to by either to eliminate its opposite generally backfire spectacularly.

3. That which possesses the most power to elevate you also has the most power to bring you crashing down, and vice versa. Music is a great example; it is one of the most potent forces in the cosmos, but its intimate and personal nature makes it disastrous if applied wrongly.

4. Human beings are the greatest of gods and the worst of monsters; all other sentient races are ultimately reflections on human nature (though they can hardly be expected to agree with that). This is the reason why the god who claims to have created Humanity is a Greater deity, while the racial forefathers of other species are Lesser ones.

5. That which is beautiful is not always kind, and every promise holds the threat of betrayal.

6. There is no surer way to destroy something than to try and possess it; likewise, one of the easiest ways to render a subject mysterious and confusing is to invent measurements and jargon to describe it.

7. Darkness is as likely to protect people as it is to endanger them; their fear of it is usually irrational, and often actively counterproductive. Conversely, light can be a punishing, inquisitory force at least as often as it is a symbol of Good.

8. There's no real substitute for a good upbringing, but sometimes this isn't enough to overcome the flaws inherent in one's nature.

9. The grandest and most important things in the world are usually made up of lots of tiny, insignificant-seeming individual parts, rather than being any kind of coherent whole. That which is big, loud, flashy and impressive is most likely to be a diversion; the course of destiny is truly shaped by a lot of invisible, incremental adjustments, the details of which are very boring and hard to pay attention to. These components don't have to be aware of the role they're playing in changing the course of history...in fact, it's usually better if they have no idea.

10. It's very easy to live by mottoes such as "Be careful what you wish for" and "Kill the little ones before they grow into big problems". But the temptation to rely on such simple, memorable slogans and rules of thumb, instead of recognizing life's complexity and using sound judgment uniquely in each situation, is one of the slipperiest slopes down past the Moral Event Horizon there is.

11. Justice depends on compassion, compassion depends on empathy, and empathy is difficult to achieve when you hold the authority to dispense justice. This and similar equations prevent the administration of a benevolent regime from ever being an easy task, regardless of how much power or resources one commands.

12. Karma and fate and the like exist far less often than people imagine they do, and hubris is no greater a flaw than the intellectual cowardice of those who are certain that hubris must be punished.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:41 pm

Ashtagon wrote:Here's 20 questions you might usefully answer: http://jrients.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/t ... -your.html
Okay, I've got a good hour on my hands, so here goes nothing.
1.What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
Given that Whiteleaf is a constructed reality whose gods are cooperative and interventionistic, that question will have specific and very long answers. I should probably work up some sort of simple quiz that will help players choose the god they'd be most interested in following, with all of the 80 major gods as primary outputs, and an "other" category encompassing the remaining 260 without having to fully detail them.
2.Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
There is something of an "adventuring economy" in Whiteleaf; most urban centers will have the fantastic equivalent of a Gander Mountain-type store, where "wilderness explorers" and "archaeological delvers" can get the equipment they need. Nonmagical equipment is often abstracted in Whiteleaf play; this isn't Dark Sun, you're not going to die in the desert because you forgot to include a 2-sp waterskin on your possessions list. Unless you have "mcGuyvering" as an optional class feature, there's not much need to itemize your number of pieces of chalk owned, but whatever it is you need, it's likely to be readily available anywhere in the Empire and most of its neighbor states.
3.Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
The Empire happily encourages this sort of thing. Bespoke armorers command impressive prices (as per the rules in the PHB), but it can definitely be done. And the guy who did it might well become a recurring NPC, since he views your adventuring party as a walking advertisement for his wares, and will want to keep tabs on your activities, providing continuing support while managing PR issues.
4.Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
The current Emperor of the Tradespeak Imperium.
5.Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Probably the Grand Marshal of the hobgoblin Hatchet Kingdom, though that's just an off-the-cuff answer. Open warfare is uncommon on Whiteleaf, for much the same reasons that it's uncommon on Earth these days - civilization is a fragile thing and people tend to dislike being killed, so mostly the brushfire conflicts are settled through diplomacy or else quietly simmer, rather than spiraling out of control and becoming World Wars. In most cases, military force is exercised through groups rather than individuals; the rise of a singular Gilgamesh-esque figure who goes around curbstomping entire armies would be a significant paradigm shift, and would probably make for a good Adventure Path.
6.Who is the richest person in the land?
If you count the resources of the State as belonging to the Head of State, the Emperor wins again. But his personal access to that wealth is more restricted. The rapidly declining noble class would have numerous members who are personally better-heeled, even if their fortunes are largely tied up in economic and legal battles meant to keep them from being cut down to size. Quintana Casien is an example of a major NPC who exemplifies this conflict; she runs a huge counterculture network which is slowly mobilizing to act against the Empire in the Hungerford region, and the fact that she's a Half-Celestial makes it hard for anyone to suspect her of being the brains behind this quasi-terroristic gang.
7.Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Temples to appropriate deities are commonplace and will usually have this covered. Rare exceptions exist, such as the druidic theocracy of Litverania, where clerical magic is prohibited and the Healer class is occasionally used in its place.
8.Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Generally ditto, although the church of The Everlasting would object to having Undeath characterized as a problem that needs to be fixed. Likewise, Lycanthropes generally portray themselves as persecuted victims who are demonized by unjustifiable stereotype. Magical alignment change is nearly unheard-of, given that the entire question of alignment is much more complex and nuanced than in most D&D settings; when it happens, it functionally resembles a psychotic break, and the science of psychotherapy is in its infancy on Whiteleaf, but more informal forms of counseling are available from numerous avenues.
9.Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
The Sixteen Schools (well, thirteen of them; the remaining three are clerically focused) are the most reliable institutions promulgating the spread of arcane edification. Every major metropolis and even some mid-sized towns have smaller establishments of this type, less heavily regulated and often more unfair in their practices, at least until someone reports them to an appropriate bureaucratic Ministry. The fact that it's so (relatively) easy to get access to wizardly lore is a potential source of danger to Whiteleaf; the Emperor absolutely refuses to hear anything about some knowledge being "dangerous" and needing to be suppressed, so a lot of rather Lovecraftian information is available in what amounts to a public library, and the resulting eruptions take a fair bit of effort to stamp out in time. Getting better municipal controls put in place around this issue is a constant struggle for the government.
10.Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
Literally everywhere! There's not really such a thing as the "common people" in Whiteleaf; everyone has their own special interests, and nobody is completely nondescript. Virtually every village of as few as 50 folks will have at least one person, perhaps an alderman's imaginative daughter, who dabbles as a hobbyist in whatever obscure philosophical discipline the players need. While her efforts are amateurish, she evinces obvious talent, and if the players give her a few GP for her trouble, she will likely invest that relative fortune in furthering her career, turning up years later as a renowned professional whose name is respected throughout the region (and she in turn has contacts with better-developed experts elsewhere in the world).
11.Where can I hire mercenaries?
The Empire has professional guilds, such as the Judicious Company of Mailed Fists in Malaprop, who can assist ambitious expeditionaries with both protective services and professional expertise (eg trapfinding). In other countries, such as Cycadria and the Quatrinate Hegemony, rougher customers can be found who will cut you a bargain price, just because they enjoy any opportunity to bash heads without awkward questions being asked. Sleepy regions like the Heather Plains Alliance may not offer this service in any formal way, although you might be able to rustle up a lynch mob just by spreading rumors with the locals (who, although they like living a peaceful life and don't like to borrow trouble, are also more than a little bored, occasionally having grandiose dreams that rile their quiescent spirits and provoke them to restless ennui).
12.Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
The Empire has a lot of laws, varying wildly by region, many of them patently absurd, and often inconsistently enforced. Outlawing either weapons or magic is suicidal enough that few regimes have attempted it lately, but registration processes and tarrifs and so forth are commonplace. The populace often resents the bureaucracy's sprawling inefficiency in this regard, but change is slow to take root; you can't really fault most of the people involved, as they're just somewhat small-minded folks with good intentions, trying to do the right thing as best their limited faculties allow. (This is meant to be very evocative of the way we live our lives in the modern world, but with somewhat more ability to actually accomplish positive change through individual action. Keeping the struggle difficult ensures a satisfying victory at its end, and not guaranteeing victory at all makes the attempt more meaningful.)
13.Which way to the nearest tavern?
Establishments of this sort are ubiquitous, with most major cities having no less than three, each wildly different in character. The players should almost always have a choice as to what sort of a place they want to spend their free time, and the people who congregate there will be as different as the amenities available (though the Empire often works on standardizing certain things, like ensuring that salt and garlic are in plentiful supply). Many of these establishments belong to the Network of Ironically Named Inns ("NINI", proudly displayed on a plaque in the common room); member businesses such as the Inn Consequential or the Inn D'Ignant are considered highly reputable, and they need not compete so fiercely to establish a "gimmick", compared to independent operations such as "Duffy's" or "Gallivan's" (few have guessed the latter's extraordinary secret).
14.What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Problems like this have usually been fixed before the PCs show up; the Empire is a good bit too civilized for its own good, some would say. The rare exceptions are definitely good for going down in history; the Morgwurm Memorial in Old Westmarch has recently been vandalized, but for centuries it has stood as a testament to the brave sacrifice of the town's protector. Your odds of being able to do this sort of thing improve if you strike out for wilder regions, such as the jungles stretching from South Cycadria into Pan Angh, but of course these areas are also less able to reward you for the achievement. Such is always the balance in these matters - there are always fewer games being played for higher stakes, even though the very panache of such rarity is an incentive in and of itself.
15.Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
The most active "hot zone" in current geopolitics is the Empire's border with the Hatchet Kingdom; the hobgoblins are forever pushing the envelope, looking for an excuse to march in full force, despite the certainty they would be annihilated. They consider the Emperor's desire to avoid a costly war to be cowardice, and rattle their sabers in deliberate provocation; anyone looking to develop a bloodthirsty reputation would likely start here. Otherwise, you'd probably just strike out into the Hinterlands and look for orc tribes or troglodyte nests. Occasionally the Quatrinate Hegemony conducts outright raids, but usually the conflict there is more of a cold war, giving opportunities to spies and thieves and saboteurs rather than formal warriors.
16.How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
This is widely regard as a ridiculous cliché. Cycadria is probably the only major nation where it might happen, and even there it would carry a lot of religious baggage that would be likely to tax the fighters' patience.
17.Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
OH MY GOD SO MANY. This is a huge emphasis for the setting. Aside from the constant struggle between the Web of Lies and the Celestial Overwatch, and the constant shadow war among various national intelligence agencies (again, Empire vs. Hegemony is the biggest example of this), there are also literally thousands of small, localized groups pushing various agendas, secret cults working to corrupt vulnerable targets, or pompous hobbyist clubs surrounding themselves with artificial mystique which often takes on a dangerous life of its own. Trying to catalogue all of these factions is as pointless as counting the ways you can die miserably on Athas; several examples are provided, but the GM is always encouraged to develop his own webs of intrigue, tied directly to the backstories of his players.
18.What is there to eat around here?
For players who like a somewhat less violent version of adventure, the quest for the hottest of haute cuisine is a passion for many of the surviving aristocrats. Even the poorest folk are forever trying to spice up their porridge and stew, adding creative touches which give them a sense of individuality. This is pretty much all just flavor text, and most players won't care, but the GM is encouraged to add a bit of imaginative flair in his first couple of sessions, just to see if any of the players enjoy the extra detail.
19.Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
As with 14, a lot of this sort of thing is in the past, although there are significantly more surviving examples that remain to be found. Discovering interesting things is a national obsession for even the humblest Imperial folk, and many other nationalities feel similarly; anything can be a treasure to someone, if they're sentimental enough, but truly impressive artifacts are certainly still out there. One example of a recent discovery whose impact is still being felt is the Hephaestus Fragments, a treasure which reveals details of Whiteleaf's prehistory from before the rise of the elven and dwarven kingdoms; for reasons that remain unclear to anyone who hasn't read the tablets, dragon-kind seems willing to go to any extent to destroy these artifacts and kill anyone who ever saw them, resulting in absurdly tight security around any attempt to relocate them for new study. This is an example of how much controversy can swirl around a historical relic, even one which does not have any actual magical powers. What will happen when someone digs up a truly dangerous artifact? Stay tuned, true believer....
20.Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
I have no idea what Type H means, so I cannot answer this one.

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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by Dartamian » Fri Aug 05, 2016 3:53 am

willpell wrote:
Ashtagon wrote:20.Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
I have no idea what Type H means, so I cannot answer this one.
Treasure Type comes form AD&D (1e of course). There was no 'standard' treasure by level/challenge rating like 3e. You didn't know how much treasure you would reap when you defeated a monster just because you knew how powerful it was. Each monster had a listed Treasure Type (a letter of course, sometimes multiple letters), the letter referred to a table in the appendix of the Monster Manual with percentage chances of the hoard containing each type of coin, gems, jewelry, or maps and magic; along with another range for the amount of each item that was successfully rolled for (and for maps and magic you would roll again on the tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide).

Treasure Type H was the granddaddy of hauls (unless of the course the dice were unhappy) and every dragon (if I recall correctly) had Treasure Type H (plus other types, depending on the color of the beast).
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Re: [Whiteleaf] What is special about this setting?

Post by willpell » Fri Aug 05, 2016 8:17 pm

Okay, well to answer that question, dragons higher than CR 20 are in stasis on Whiteleaf, since it's bounded against the activation of Epic threats (originally this was just because I hadn't read the ELH, but it's since become very tightly woven into the universe's structure, that when you hit level 20 you can't advance further, and thus no longer care about burning XP to craft items or cast Wish and the like). So while you can find a mid-sized dragon hoard, the truly ancient wyrms are sleeping the centuries away, and thus is will remain barring a cataclysmic shift in the universe. Ditto for the Tarrasque and other such ubermonsters; you might be able to find them if you traveled far enough into the Planes (the Abyss probably lacks the epic boundary, and likely so does Arborea; on the Lawful planes it's probably stronger, but there could be localized exceptions), but for the most part, your odds of finding a Motherload are better if you go spelunking in long-abandoned caves and ruins, since most of the troves which anyone knew how to locate have already been dumped into the economy. Keep in mind, if you do run into an absurdly huge windfall, it's not likely to stay yours forever; the Celestial Bureaucracy strictly regulates Wealth by Level, so anyone who exceeds their limit temporarily has two choices - spend like they're starring in "Brewster's Millions", buying only passing frivolities or charitable works for those below their WBL (who, like you, are only temporarily in such a state), or else get ready for a bolt of Tactical Nuclear Karma to come your way.

All creatures on Whiteleaf seek self-improvement, but gaining levels is really the only form this takes. And once you hit 20, you've entered the twilight of your life, and eventually it's likely that you will lose interest in continuing to exist. The Material Plane is simply not meant for boundless growth; it's a carefully balanced system, and it requires these limitations. Otherwise, the Afterlife wouldn't be all that interesting, would it?

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