Kingdoms of Kalamar (or, Campaign Settings Part II)

In continuation of my discussing some of the different settings for the forthcoming D&D campaign, I’ve settled on Kingdoms of Kalamar. Read on to find out why.

Realism

Insofar as one can have realism in a setting where magic, dragons, orcs, and unicorns are real, Kalamar has it in spades. The world feels natural and normal, like it actually evolved, geologically and ecologically, throughout time. While it was created by an all-powerful, omniscient being — just like Kansas and Pennsylvania — it has natural history and science behind its design and current state. The folks at Kenzer & Co. who developed it had a good idea of how biology and ecology work.

Versatility

One of the more common traps that befalls some other campaign settings is the so-called loremaster effect. One of your players, or another person you know, takes it upon themselves to find out everything they possibly can about the game world in which you’re playing. With some of the more content-heavy settings, especially those produced by Wizards of the Coast, this includes lots of sourcebooks, novels, online publications, short stories and supplements in magazines… the volume of information can be overwhelming. For someone who’s interested in maintaining a game setting that’s as close to canon as possible, it can be quite a task to keep all this going and keep it in-line with your local changes; basically, the more content there is to worry about deviating from, the more content the DM has to track. With Kalamar, it’s a significantly smaller company producing much less content, leaving me feeling more free to institute the other third-party or home-grown content as I see fit, without having to worry about something else from on-high causing a conflict. Kalamar is huge and has big swaths of largely undocumented stuff, perfect for dropping in a little village that’s suffering from a local threat. But it doesn’t suffer from the downside of having a small amount of content — the content that is there is very high-quality, and there’s plenty written about various different, more densely populated or interesting, areas of the world. So if I want to have a highly detailed urban setting, I’ve got Geanavue, Loona, or Zoa, not to mention the fan-produced stuff about Bet Kalamar.

Religion

Kalamar has a rich pantheon of gods, with each having significant power in their domain(s). This really isn’t all that different from every other campaign setting out there, but gods, religion, and faith are more integrated into everyone’s lives. In a lot of settings, religion only matters if you’re a paladin or a cleric — even monks tend to be generic Kung-Pow ass-kickers in most worlds. Religion on Tellene is a part of everyone’s life, and while everyone generally tends to follow only one god, most people acknowledge the existence of the others, and will even pay homage to them for certain things (e.g. briefly say a prayer to The Traveler before beginning a journey). I also like that all the different cultures — see below for more on this — have their own names for each of the gods, in their own languages. It gives a very realistic feel to the pantheon.

Culture and Race

On Tellene, there are many different sub-races of each race. You could call them cultures or ethnicities, but they add a level of depth to what was a very two-dimensional system of heredity. Someone whose family hails from the southern island of Svimozhia looks different and has different traits from someone whose origins are further north, where winters are harsher and longer, and there’s less sun. They’re both humans, but they’re still different. You could have an all-human party and it would still be full of variation. Humans are the most populous race on Tellene by a long shot, in part because they reproduce more rapidly than the other races due to their shorter average lifespan, but also because they’re exceptionally resourceful, quick to adapt, and foolhardy. Elves, gnomes, halflings, and all the others still exist and can be found in abundance in their own areas, but humans run the show. I won’t let this impact the players and their choices in race — after all, parties of player characters are the very rare exception rather than the norm, so why should standard racial boundaries apply to them? — but it might come into play in their adventures. If most of the people in a small village have never seen an elf before, they’re certainly going to remember the elf rogue who showed up with his half-hobgoblin, halfling, and mismatched human cohorts; might make sneaking around kind of difficult, necessitating more careful planning.

Magic

Kalamar is what’s considered a low-magic setting. This means that if you were to find a small village in the middle of nowhere, odds are high you wouldn’t find any magic users or magic items. Perhaps the village’s most learned individual might know about some aspects of magic, but he or she probably wouldn’t be a magic-user, themselves. People certainly know it exists, and most are aware that it can be used for both good or evil, but magic and magic-users are still hard enough to come by in most regions of the world that they’re generally considered exceptional. Some places might look askance at magic-users, while others might not even bat an eye (especially in larger cities), so a wide range of reactions is certainly something that extensive magic-users should expect when traveling. Magic doesn’t permeate everyday life like it does in some settings, but it is common in parties of adventurers — again, they’re the exception rather than the rule — so it won’t impact the players much in terms of character choices.

Something else I intend to try with this campaign, since I’ve only ever done it with Vampire: The Masquerade, is role-played character creation. We go through the characters’ lives, starting at an early age, and I role-play with the players to determine the events that shaped who they are. For instance, by working out how they reacted when they were little to, say, an armed assault on one of the townsfolk where they live — hiding behind something, defiant yelling, studied scrutiny — I’ll get a good idea of who they want to be. I’ll draft that up in the form of a character summary, or even a fully filled-out character sheet, and go over what I think they’ve got. They still have final say over what is and isn’t an aspect of their character — it is their character, after all — and if they want to scrap the whole thing and start over by simply rolling someone up and applying the background later then they certainly can. I’ve found that this offers a good introduction for new players to how role-playing games work, and prevents them from having to know too many of the rules and options ahead of time. I’ll give `em the available races, the available deities, and the available classes to give them an idea of where they might like to aim themselves, but actually getting there will be their responsibility (and mine).

I’d like to obtain a copy of the Kingdoms of Kalamar Player’s Primer to share with my players, since it’s a lighter-weight background introduction to the world of Tellene, and I may put some content up here summarizing the world and its races, deities, calendar, and regions for them to read. That is, after I finish reading the remaining books that I’ve got to read.

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