I prefer fantasy novels with as few made-up words as possible. Whenever I watch Game of Thrones, I always laugh when they start speaking some foreign fantasy language, because I can’t see passed an adult speaking gibberish to another adult. So I’m sure you can imagine how strange it is for me to write a setting for my homebrew campaign, but here we are. Fight me.
Goals for my homebrew setting
I only need to stay one step ahead of the players. If I don’t think something is 100% useful for the game, I don’t want to waste my time writing it. I only want to write actionable, interesting content.
Questions are more interesting than answers. Television writers love to fill in the blanks in their timelines, but I think their answers are wasteful. I want to be brave and lean into an unanswered world.
The players can override my ideas. Their four brains are going to come up with better ideas than my single brain, so I want to empower the players to shape the world — even retroactively. I want to practice suspending my ego to make the game a better experience for everybody.
Themes and inspiration
Strange: I love magic realism — where characters react to fantastic circumstances as if they were mundane. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ursula laments at the loss of her good bedsheets when her too-beautiful-for-this-world granddaughter ascends to heaven while hanging out the washing. I want to apply otherworldly logic to my homebrew setting.
Lonely: My favourite video game is Dark Souls. I love how the hands-off storytelling leaves you blowing in the wind as you try to decipher the significance of ringing two bells. Meanwhile, your only link to the story—a crestfallen knight—wanders into the sunken city and succumbs to madness off-camera. Nobody is coming to help you.
Unknown: D&D 4E was built on the premise of civilization existing in “points of light” in an otherwise dark, wild world. I want dark and strange world that resists society.
Simple: I don’t like complicated fantasy jargon, so I want my writing to be simple. I like how The Black Company by Glen Cook uses short names for locations: Barns, Roses, The Lady. I’m going to wholesale steal some of those names.
The result: Quorum
Man vs Wild
Civilization is unwanted. Cities are constantly threatened by the natural and unnatural orders. Like an old dog's tooth, even the smallest crack in society fills the halls with decay, the wilderness, the supernatural. Conventional wisdom predicts the encroaching wilds will eventually swallow the world.
Strangers are incompatible with society but thrive in the chaotic wilds. Fey, infernal, undead, aberrations — all occupy the vast, unexplored world. These creatures are not necessarily evil, but their nature can be so otherworldly, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Like fire-starting was the breakthrough technology for real-world proto-humans, primeval Builders were elevated by the invention of walls. Society is the result of parallel thinking — many races stumbled from the darkness to stake their claim in the safety and comfort of each other's company.
The city-states of the civilised world are comprised of all kinds of people. Each maintain their own sovereignty, but all are faced with the same threat. Travel between city-states can be treacherous.
Same Same, but Different
Like cultures bleed into each other along real-life borders, Builders and Strangers combine in odd ways along the frontier. Villagers might worship a local demon rather than conventional deities, or a witch in the wilds might trade medicine for produce. Some monstrous people have been known to integrate into society along the borders. This shit does not fly in the main cities though — the more conservative people there might view anyone from outside a built-up area as a Stranger.
The Gods are Real
Conventional religions from the Dawn War pantheon are all present in Quroum, but the activity of deities is much more subtle. The gods act through people rather than directly inflicting their will on the world. In many ways, the pagan deities and totems of the Strangers are much more tangible and relatable to some.
City-States of Quorum (most civilized to most wild)
ROSES: Roses is an architectural wonder, defying nature in form and scale.
TEMPLES: Temples is the spiritual centre of Quorum. It is small in size, but strong in cultural influence.
FORGE: Forge is surface and subterrain city built around and under an ancient meteor crater.
BRIDGES: Bridges is a port-city built on a network of connected archipelago islands.
GROVES: Groves is a treetop city in the Forest of Giants.
STORMS: Storms is a floating city renowned for its sailors and shipbuilding.
SPIRE: Spire is a vertical city built inside a colossal stone pillar.
NEW PEAK: New Peak is built into the side of a red mountain, with a citadel crowning the summit.
BARROWS: Barrows is an underground city founded in the face of deep, dark eldritch strangeness.
TRIBES: Tribes is a sprawling tent-city that migrates every few decades.
• The Minotaur's library holds the answer to every mystery imaginable.
• Names have power over demons in the strange lands.
• There is a grey dog that can hunt you through your memories
• Fire acts strangely in the face of otherworldly-strangeness
• A dark monster lives in an underground sea beneath Barrows
• Yuan-Ti worship something in a huge structure in the desert — the structure phases in and out of reality
• Faeries want to lead children to a field of flowers
• A mountain grew from the corpse of a titan in the wild
• Something is living in the smoldering ruins of Old Peak — none return from there
• A sea monster is responsible for the Great Bridge's stalled construction
• The sunken city-state of Mains calls sailors to their deaths
• Something in the Frozen Mines is driving inmates and workers mad
• There is a unintelligible language spreading like disease.
• There is a place that constantly rains.
• There is a place where is always daytime.
• There is a place where it's always night.
• There's a place where the animals can speak.
• There is a place where stone plants grow.
• There is a fog creeping through the wilds that swallows sound.
• Six doves are an omen of death.
• There is an ancient village trapped in a time loop.
• There is a creature stealing stars.
• There is an ageless hermit in the wilds.
• There's a floating landmass in the sky.
• A blood moon causes magic to act strangely.
• There is a spectral carnival that twists luck in pandemonium.
• Doppelgangers swap their children for civilised infants.
• There is a kind of stone that absorbs blood and brings good luck.
• There is an artifact that turns iron into gold.
• The gods' sanctums exist in the wilds.
• There is a maze slowly expanding in the wild — no one has completed it.
• There is a river of mead.
• A monster that only children can see haunts Temples.