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🎨 Creative Twilight Colony - D&D meets Blue Planet

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#1
I may not have much time to write more about this once my Christmas vacation is over (i.e. after January 6th), so let me figure out what I can until then. Thus, without further ado, here is the idea for a new campaign setting I've been thinking about for a while.

The Pitch:

It's Dungeons & Dragons meets Blue Planet - the PCs are typical D&D-esque adventurer-types (fighters, clerics, wizards, elves, dwarves...) who are now settlers and explorers on an alien exoplanet - which is nevertheless firmly rooted in D&D (well, d20) lore!

The Premise:

The PCs are all from a fairly typical fantasy world, with all the usual player character options available for the 5E OGL rules - all the same classes, races, and so forth. This world is largely populated by beings derived from European mythology (and possibly the mythologies from other real world continents, although they won't be the focus for the time being). Thus, you get dragons, chimeras, all sorts of fairies, and so forth.

However, this world is dying. There have been numerous omens, and the Final Battle of the Gods is at hand. No one is precisely sure how much time is left - likely at least five years, but probably no more than ten.

And while many have resigned themselves to their fate, others are not so eager to die with their world and their gods. For this reason, wizards from across the world have searched different planes of existence for a refuge. Unfortunately, most other worlds of the material world are extremely inhospitable, with poisonous air, crushing gravity, boiling heat or utter coldness. But at last, they found one. Humans can live and breathe there, and many of the native plants can be eaten by them. Unfortunately, this goes vice versa.

But the mages and their societies ran out of time, and thus the mages began to construct planar gates to this new world. This was a supremely expensive venture, and all but the largest nations could only afford a single gate - but desperation drove them on. Ten years ago, the first settlers and explorers went through the gates - and they largely died horribly at the hands of the native creatures. But the survivors learned from their mistakes, and eventually the first settlements formed and survived on this new world. As the Final Battle approaches, more and more colonists pour through the gates, and the resources of human society are stretched to the breaking point tryint to accommodate them all. Yet even more colonists await their turn back home, and everyone must work their hardest to ensure that humans and the other civilized races survive their home world.

Our story focuses on the colonization efforts of one particular kingdom and its settlement efforts, dubbed "Twilight Colony" for the almost-constant twilight cast by the new world's twin suns. The PCs are among the people trying to survive and make their homes on this world. Perhaps they want to establish and build their own settlement with like-minded folks, defending it against both threats from the alien wilderness and new arrivals who want to supplant them or rule over them. Perhaps they are soldiers-of-fortune and opportunists who seek to rise to riches and power on this new world Perhaps they are explorers who wish to understand the native creatures of this world - either how to defeat them and drive them away, or how to make some sort of accommodation with them. Or perhaps they wish to understand the mysteries of the cyclopean ruins left behind by long-vanished civilizations on this world - before the same fate happens to them.

And as for the native creatures of this world - they do not resemble anything from European mythology. Instead, this world is populated by aberrations and other strange things that have been published for the d20 OGL and its derivatives over the years, many of which have had a long history in D&D - aboleths, flumphs, gricks, mimics, and stranger things. Yet here they are not invading monsters that seem out of place - here they are the natives and humans are the invaders! Will humans strive to exterminate them as perceived threats, or is some kind of balance possible?


So, what are your thoughts so far?
 

Thyrkill

Registered User
Validated User
#2
Hi Jürgen,

I like the pitch. A cool take on switching things up, and creating the need for adventure and exploration. A few of questions spring to mind:
1. Has Planar travel not been a major part of the world before?
2. Do the Gods exist in this new world, or is it a new cosmology?
3. Does each Gate open into different territory around the new world?
4. Do the aberrations have civilisations themselves?

Cheers and keep up the good work,
Matt
 

AlwaysToast

Registered User
Validated User
#3
My first thought is if the whole campaign is based on “Welcome to alien planet” I’d want everything about the planet to be alien or alienating. I mean totally different from rational expectations (like a lot of spelljammer planets). Bodies of water, rain, continents, seasons, life cycles, food pyramids, biomes, resources, relation to gods, how long is a day, a season, a year, etc, I’d want those to be super weird, so it felt like an alien world, not just a normal world, but with weird creatures. But based on your post, I can’t tell if you want to discuss/brainstorm weird stuff like that, or if you just want opinions on if your idea(s) sounds interesting.

If aberrations are the dominate species, are you going to stop calling them aberrations, because they are no longer aberrant?

What do various Aberrations eat before the delicious food from another planet arrived? Particularly the brain eating kind of aberrations (hard for those to exist without some kind of mundane humanoid to eat).

Did the arrival of the other worldly creatures create conflict for the existing inhabitants? Wipe out crops, destroyed political situations, spread disease, introduce things they had never seen or experienced? Do the locals think this is the end of their world or the arrival of free delicious food?

What else is trying/succeeding to escape to this planet from their home world? Dragons and other spell-casting creatures probably found this place too right?

If your setting is super strange, you have to find a way to convey large amounts of information to players in a way that won’t bore them to death. The closer in the timeline the PCs arrive, the more plausible that nobody knows what is going on, and they need to find out for themselves. The longer the newcomers have been there, the more general information they will need.

Are you planning to run a day by day game, or more like one adventure per month? Because how fast they can make progress will change how pressure to succeed can be applied to the PCs from NPCs.

I’d be inclined to have the PCs be from a society that lives in magical bio-domes, believing they could keep themselves seperate via magical superiority, using resources from their old world. Then have the failure of that system be the inciting incident to send out adventurers to learn more about the world. Providing a reason why most people (at least in their society) don't know what the new world is like. So learn stuff in game, rather than have to give them a huge amount of lore right at the start.
 

Crimson Carcharodon

Formerly 'CrimsonCarcharodon'
Validated User
#4
I think playing up the weirdness would be a strong, thematic way to differentiate the new world from the old. Beholders that have sculpted out floating mountain chunks to be their lairs. Aboleths that travel about in massive globes of water hemmed in by magic. A fungi forest growing down out of the roof of a cavern. Take Pitch Black as an inspiration and once every hundred years or so, both suns set completely and you get true darkness - and that's when something comes out and hunts the surface aberrations, and now the colonists as well.

Weird plants that grow incessantly - good food, but it also becomes a battle not to let them overrun the colony, and then you're left with an abundance of it. Rain that sometimes is more slimy than watery. Oozes that spontaneously arise out of puddles. Insects that grow six or eight feet long; they just do their normal thing, but the colonists interfere with that.
 

Usurename

Registered User
Validated User
#5
Nice.

Personally, I would prefer it if you stole a little more from Blue Planet. Like, by having a previous population of humans or elves or whatever having settled the planet, losing contact with their homeworld, adapting to their new one, and now having to deal with all these newcomers who think they know best and claim sovereignty over them through some forgotten historical ties. Maybe that could be the origin of the various D&D Underdark subraces (those not found IRL mythology anyway).
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#6
Thanks for the feedback so far, I will try to talk a bit further about how I envision this setting and then answer some of your questions. Right now, I see these main topics:

- The native ecosystem
- The society of the settlers and Twilight Colony itself
- Native ruins and civilizations

Let's start with the first one:

The Native Ecosystem

Some general principles:


First, this world is not a deathworld in the Warhammer 40K sense. Not every creature is out to kill humans. Yes, there are dangerous creatures, but so did their world of origin.

No, this world is primarily dangerous because humans don't know the rules. Even after 10 years, much of the alien flora and fauna remains a mystery to the settlers - they have little to no baseline how to react properly when encountering these creatures, and they often don't know the warning signs that they are about to encounter these creatures. Most of them might be labeled "aberrations" or "monstrosities" in the 5E rules, but in general they are "natural" components of their ecosystem and engange in (to them) rational behaviors that can be learned and understood by sufficiently patient and observant human observers (if they aren't killed during the act of observation first).

In other words, the goal is to pay homage to classic science fiction exploration stories.


Secondly, I am not sure if I will ever get to this stage - but if I do manage to publish it one day, I want to publish under the OGL and under the 5E rules. Which means that I can only use creatures that have been published under the OGL at some point - so that means (for instance) no beholders. I want to use as many "iconic" monsters from D&D (and related lines) lore as possible, and then gradually work my way towards the more obscure critters. Thus, I will do a general "Where I Read" of assorted OGL bestiaries in order to pick suitable creatures. Right now, I have the following reading list - but feel free to add further bestiaries if you any suggestions:

- The 5E SRD document
- Pathfinder Bestiaries 1-6
- Tome of Horrors Complete
- The 5E Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts

General criteria for inclusion are:

- Not a humanoid or recognizable derivative of a creature from Earth.
- Not something directly from Earth's well-known myths (though there is some leeway here if the creature's origin is obscure or has been sufficiently altered from its mythological origin)
- It should make sense as a part of an alien ecosystem.


Finally, these creatures can only be a starting point. They shouldn't be perceived as individual species, but also as example expressions of whole families of similar creatures. Most of the published creatures I will be looking at will were developed for combat encounters, but there should be a multitude of less dangerous beings that can form the basis of a food pyramid - but which are nevertheless obviously related to the more dangerous critters, the same way a housecat is related to a tiger. Additionally, while there are numerous fauna examples, d20 bestiaries tend to have only a small selection of alien flora - and few of these are of the ubiquitous non-dangerous type. What are the local equivalents of trees, grass, shrubs? I need to put some serious thoughts into this to make this alien world seem real.

And for this purpose, I need to increase my knowledge of ecosystems and thus have some reading to do. On my reading list so far are:

"1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created" by Charles C. Mann
"Alien Species and Evolution" by Georce W. Cox
"Invasive Species Management" by Michael N. Clout and Peter A. Williams

And, of course, the advice of any biologists and ecologists on this forum would be especially welcome.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#7
Hi Jürgen,

I like the pitch. A cool take on switching things up, and creating the need for adventure and exploration. A few of questions spring to mind:
1. Has Planar travel not been a major part of the world before?
Well, planar travel to the "Outer Planes" involving the cosmology of the origin world - the homes of the gods, demons, and devils - was rare, but known. But it is likely that these planes will share the same fate as the origin world. Planar travel to other worlds on the material plane was rather more obscure, since most of these worlds were so hostile (as mentioned earlier). A few archmages did travel to these (using strong protective spells) or even brought some strange critters from them back home (most of whom died quickly). The world of the Twilight Colony is the first world on the material plane where mutual survival is possible.

2. Do the Gods exist in this new world, or is it a new cosmology?
No native gods are known to exist. So far, clerics worshiping the Old Gods continue to receive their powers in the Twilight Colony, but no one is sure what will happen after the Final Battle - but most assume that these powers will be lost. Obviously, if the story progresses this far the GM should ensure that PC clerics retain their powers, possibly from some new source - but the characters shouldn't know that.

Exploration of the "local" adjacent planes is still in its infancy. There are outsiders influencing this world, but they are as alien as the natives.

3. Does each Gate open into different territory around the new world?
That is the plan, yes. Establishing long-distance trade routes to the other colonies can be a long-term campaign plot, but for now, each colony stands on its own.

4. Do the aberrations have civilisations themselves?
None have been apparent to the colonists, but this isn't the same as saying that they don't exist. I am remembering passages in the book "1493" here - the Native Americans practiced a form of permiculture that was so different from the way Europeans practiced agriculture that the European settlers simply didn't recognize it as such. They simply thought it awesome how fertile the local "wilderness" was and attributed it to "God's Bounty".

The same will be true of the settlers of Twilight Colony - only a few especially observant people might recognize the gardens of the flumphs for what they are, instead of dismissing it as a random patch of wilderness.

And then there are civilizations hiding beneath the ground or in the oceans - that of the aboleths, for instance. And there are ruins of long-vanished civilizations (because you can't have a D&D setting without ancient dungeons to explore) - more on those later. But the overall belief among the colonists is that they are taming a "wilderness" instead of taking over someone else's living space - at least, in the beginning.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#8
My first thought is if the whole campaign is based on “Welcome to alien planet” I’d want everything about the planet to be alien or alienating. I mean totally different from rational expectations (like a lot of spelljammer planets). Bodies of water, rain, continents, seasons, life cycles, food pyramids, biomes, resources, relation to gods, how long is a day, a season, a year, etc, I’d want those to be super weird, so it felt like an alien world, not just a normal world, but with weird creatures. But based on your post, I can’t tell if you want to discuss/brainstorm weird stuff like that, or if you just want opinions on if your idea(s) sounds interesting.
The limit is that I want the world to be (a) habitable, (b) follow a recognizable set of "laws of nature" (at least, as far as D&D worlds ever do), and (c) internally consistent - I do not want to go Full Lovecraft. The creatures are alien because they evolved in an alien environment, not because they are Eldritch Abominations from Beyond Space-Time (well, most of them aren't).

If aberrations are the dominate species, are you going to stop calling them aberrations, because they are no longer aberrant?
I consider "Aberrations" to be a term of game mechanics - it's certainly not how the creatures would call themselves, and the colonists should have more inventive nicknames.

What do various Aberrations eat before the delicious food from another planet arrived?
Each other - this is intended to be a full, complete ecosystem that is now experiencing invasive species.

Particularly the brain eating kind of aberrations (hard for those to exist without some kind of mundane humanoid to eat).
Since mind flayers can't be used (they are not part of the OGL), how many brain-eaters are out there? The Neh-Thalggu, perhaps - but what else?

Though presumably they can eat the brains of the more intelligent native species as well...

Did the arrival of the other worldly creatures create conflict for the existing inhabitants? Wipe out crops, destroyed political situations, spread disease, introduce things they had never seen or experienced? Do the locals think this is the end of their world or the arrival of free delicious food?
It will certainly cause conflict, but I will try to figure the details out as I go through the list of suitable creatures. Most worrisome will be the situation for creatures that humans consider edible (I am thinking flumphs).

What else is trying/succeeding to escape to this planet from their home world? Dragons and other spell-casting creatures probably found this place too right?
Certainly. Some of the "monstrous races" might have managed to capture or even build a Gate of their own. And races that can shapeshift will try to sneak through the Gate (and likely succeed).

If your setting is super strange, you have to find a way to convey large amounts of information to players in a way that won’t bore them to death. The closer in the timeline the PCs arrive, the more plausible that nobody knows what is going on, and they need to find out for themselves. The longer the newcomers have been there, the more general information they will need.
While I see your point, having some human settlements around is an important component of "frontier town"/"Western" storylines, and I don't want to remove the potential for those. Thus, some basic setting "info dump" is probably unavoidable.

Are you planning to run a day by day game, or more like one adventure per month? Because how fast they can make progress will change how pressure to succeed can be applied to the PCs from NPCs.
I plan to develop the setting for a specific point in time. How the story and the world develop after that is up to the GM.

I’d be inclined to have the PCs be from a society that lives in magical bio-domes, believing they could keep themselves seperate via magical superiority, using resources from their old world. Then have the failure of that system be the inciting incident to send out adventurers to learn more about the world. Providing a reason why most people (at least in their society) don't know what the new world is like. So learn stuff in game, rather than have to give them a huge amount of lore right at the start.
I want most of the setting to be somewhat less high magical. Magic exists, but most frontier villages can't rely on it on a regular basis. Thus, instead of using magic to farm the land, they practice slash-and-burn agriculture.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
Validated User
#9
Since mind flayers can't be used (they are not part of the OGL), how many brain-eaters are out there? The Neh-Thalggu, perhaps - but what else?

Though presumably they can eat the brains of the more intelligent native species as well...
Intellect devourers, that eat brains and then bodyjack their victims.
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#10
Now you all got me thinking about an ecology in which brain-eating forms a significant part, without ever having seen a human.

Suppose there exists a family of plant-like sessile life-forms. They sit in one place; they probably photosynthesise, or draw nutrition from decomposition processes or geothermal sources if available (this world does not sound as though it is as bright as an Earth-analogue). But for whatever reason - harsh winters, periodic droughts, parasites - they don't produce regular fruiting bodies.

Instead, they create something like a fig, only... different. It's oily instead of sugary, and instead of a rind, it has a chitin or calcium-based shell. The seeds or embryos inside the oil-fig can digest the oily deposits to grow and mature. Sometimes you can hear the oil-fig shells chiming in the breeze, off in the alien jungle.

Most species of these entities grow oil-figs the size of apples or plums, with relatively fragile shells and slushy innards. Colonists may find them useful for lamp fuel, as well as a tangy kind of cooking oil. Some varieties are even milky, like coconuts, or waxy, like beehives. Pretty useful.

But the natives have evolved to chew on these things and extract nutrition from this oily, fatty, waxy slush. Some of them even act like hermit crabs or symbiotes, dwelling within the shell and taking over or assisting the embryos within. And you know what they think of this big bundle of fatty cells in a thick calcium shell that humans and demihumans carry around at the top of their spinal column?

They think it's delicious.

To the colonists, it's as though there's a whole world of specialised brain-eaters out there. It's not true, not exactly. Brains are a very different type of organ, far richer than anything the aberrations are familiar with. (Their own neural structures tend to be distributed webs of ganglia interlaced with mildly toxic glands. Aberrations tend to be very soft and squishy overall - they have to be able to cope with tissue damage.) Eating brains isn't even necessarily good for them, long-term! It's just so tasty-looking.
 
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