Thursday, 10 August 2023

Mining the D&D Anti-Canon

This month the RPG Blog Carnival is all about Cabals and Congregations - which got me thinking about the organisations and factions we use (or rather don't use) in our games.

When I play D&D particularly, I get the feeling there's a whole load of built-in backstory that often gets ignored because it's not used going forward, especially in published adventures. I'm fully in agreement with Luka Rejec on canon and anti-canon and that I'd rather do this stuff at the table to make our own world than spend days reading and remembering details of someone else's world.

None of our PCs exist in a vacuum; explicitly Bards have Colleges, Druids have Circles, Rangers have favoured enemies, Sorcerers have Bloodlines - these are all potential factions to draw into our stories, and more are implied for all classes.

Since Dungeon World and Stars Without Number* helped change my DM worldview I've been keen to try to build the story round the PCs, not push the PCs into the story. 

Here's some session zero thoughts to bring these background factions to the foreground, e.g:

  • Barbarian - who are your tribe? Who are their enemies and allies? Who else roams your lands?
  • Bard - where did you train? Are/were you part of a troupe? Who have you worked for?
  • Cleric (also Druid) - do you belong to an order? Who are the enemies of your god/religion? What are your holy gathering places?
  • Fighter - where did you train / who did you train under? Is there a local fighter's or mercenary's guild (and what's your relationship with them)?
  • Monk - where is your monastery and what are its rites and rituals? Who threatens or empowers your way of life?
  • Paladin - draw from Fighter and/or Cleric, but also: what organisations are aligned with / opposed to your Oath?
  • Ranger - who else lives outside of the points of light (and what is your relationship with them)? Who of your favoured enemy do you have history with / are currently active locally?
  • Sorcerer - who shares your bloodline and how do they live among other people? What organisations seek to regulate or exploit your magic?
  • Warlock - are you part of a cult to your patron? Who are the enemies (or allies) of your patron?
  • Wizard - where did you train/learn? Who is/are the largest/wisest holder(s) of arcane knowledge in the region?

I've talked before about how I like to use factions to help generate plot threads and story arcs and (I think) making the movers and shakers relevant to the PCs helps to tie the characters to the world.

The above are version-independent ideas, but if 5e is your D&D flavour  there's also backgrounds to mine (as well as them being bags of proficiencies)! 

  • "Guild" backgrounds aside - Acolytes, Entertainers, Gladiators, Sages, Soldiers all probably belong to some sort of professional organisation
  • Charlatans, Criminals and Urchins surely must have had run-ins with (or been members of) underworld organisations
  • Folk Heros need a folk to be the hero of!
  • Sailors have crews, Knights have orders, Nobles have houses... Outlanders have people back home
  • Even Hermits have people, even if it's just the ones they are pointedly avoiding!
These low hanging fruit are often overlooked, but I'll be making a point to try to remember them in my future games. How do you go about creating and using factions?

For more information on the RPG Blog Carnival, or to check out the archive (going back more than a decade) make sure to check out the link - you can sign up to host here too.  Thanks to Gonz for hosting this month!

* I'd forgotten, but I started working on something similar for SWN a few years back too!

1 comment:

  1. Thank youir for participating! Here's the round-up post for August's Carnival!


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