To begin our little experiment in minimal sandbox preparation, I thought it would help to take a few minutes to focus on the Concept behind the setting we'll be building here. As will be common, I will likely spend more time writing these posts up than I will on the actual work performed on the task within.
I have always found inspiration from "fringe" elements of history, such as the thoughts of non-American cultures contacting America before Columbus arrived. In one such theory, ancient Egyptians (and/or the Phoenicians) had contact with America and traded regularly with the natives. These theories are based on a number of interesting tidbits of evidence, but let's face it, after three thousand years, not a lot is left to prove it one way or the other. However, as an interesting setting and one that I'd actually use, this tidbit offers a great campaign setting idea.
So, for our setting idea, let's look at a land where an Egyptian culture has settled along a large river, displacing the natives. Using the Mississippi River in our thought exercise here, we can picture large pyramids and other Egyptian elements in cities along a great river. Ancient tombs and cities of the dead provide the ruins for exploration. Tribal natives, having much in common culturally with Native Americans, would occupy some of the wilderness beyond the settled "Egyptian" lands. And for extra flavor, I could use a lot of the prehistoric animals of the Pleistocene that were common to the Great Plains region to add a savage wildness to the setting itself. (Heck, I can even throw in some dinosaurs if I wanted to.) Supernatural elements, such as monsters and the like, could derive from both Egyptian and Native American sources. Bearing in mind that this is supposed to be a game, I'm not going to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to make this an accurate portrayal, of course, but distinctive flavor makes a setting memorable. I don't know yet whether this will work or not, from a playability point of view, but for the moment, I find the idea quite intriguing.
Of course, while I'm going to pursue the Egyptian-Great Plains concept for this particular exercise, the various theories on pre-Columbian contact with the Americas presents other options for campaign setting development as well:
- Chinese and West Coast or Mayan Native Americans
- Japanese and Zuni Native Americans
- Muslims and East Coast or Mayan Native Americans
- Phoenicians and Great Plains or East Coast or Mayan Native Americans
- Vikings and East Coast Native Americans
In the case of the Oriental cultures in contact with the local native tribesmen, this would be an excellent opportunity to use Oriental Adventures or Ruins & Ronin in a frontier setting. In all cases, you have the choice of looking at the non-native culture as just beginning to colonize these areas, as being settled and established as an extension of their own homeland, or as being an empire in their own right and potentially having broken away from the lands that originally sent the colonists to this frontier land so long ago. (You can also see other examples of this kind of setting development in Rob Conley’s Points of Light II, released by Goodman Games.)
So, what do you think of this basic concept for our example setting? Any thoughts, comments or suggestions you would like to share?