This month, I’ve been putting together a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Rather than pick an established setting or world (in the first campaign I DM-ed, I had chosen the Forgotten Realms continent of Osse to set the adventure), I’ve decided to make my own.
There is so much brilliant fantasy art to inspire. For this campaign, I had been mulling over crafting something borrowing aspects of Native American culture, specifically the woodland Mound Builders. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I was always delighted and fascinated by visiting and learning more about indigenous American sites and history. So, when I discovered this map imaging Wisconsin as a Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones landscape, I realized just what I wanted to do.
This brilliant fantasy map of Wisconsin pushed me to create a D&D 5th Edition setting I call Red Banks after the Ho-Chunk name of the state.
I imagined its climate and landscape to resemble the last Ice Age. Looking to flavor the setting a bit, I made stat sheets for 8 beasts based on now extinct North American animals. Beth Zaiken is a immensely talented science illustrator whose natural history murals are stunning. She made a slew of panels for natural history museum signage that are very popular on image sharing sites like Pinterest (where I discovered them), Imgur, and Tumblr. I contacted her to ask if I could use clips from her illustrations as art in my Beasts of The Northwoods and she agreed.
There were eight animals I decide to make native to Red Banks: the Stag Moose, Hell Pig, Terror Bird, Hagerman Horse (which I renamed Gidley Horse), Bear Dog, Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (which I renamed to Lonyx), Short-Faced Bear, and one of my favorite Ice Age mammals, the glyptodon or giant armadillo.
These creatures give the setting a sense of reality while still being fantastical. Also, I just love inserting paleontology into fiction. Another feature to the region is the presence of what I termed Effigy Mounds. These are earthen works based on the Mound Builders of the upper Midwest during the Woodland period. As a kid, one of the first and most enjoyable field trips we were sent on in school was to visit the mounds in Trempealeau County. I wanted to create a fantasy setting where similar creations exists but were shrouded in mystery leaving players the task of discovery. As DM, one of my goals is to have one aspect of the campaign’s tension be how players can overcome or differ from what white settlers did in real life to sites like these. I think it’s going to be fun and a slight change of pace.
Players in my first adventure in Red Banks have been given a simple motivation–the promise of anything they want.
Lazlo Hazlitt, a powerful and cunning arcanist, has given each player a Promissory Of Boon, which will grant them a reward of the fulfillment of a Wish. All the players have to do is explore, investigate, and, if necessary, excavate the Effigy Mounds in The Northwoods collecting information about the peoples who built them as Lazlo is searching for mystical knowledge allowing him to rise in the ranks of his order and perhaps more…
The first adventure module set in Red Banks is available now. It is meant to have players begin at level 1 and progress up to level 3 or 4. Unlike my other adventures, which were free, I set a fixed price for this one–$1–and will be creating and making available further adventure modules over the next few months.
I hope you enjoy this and if you have any questions or constructive comments, I’d love to hear them.