My D&D campaigns are all set in the “World of Greyhawk” – in the land of the Flanaess, on the continent of Oerik, on the world of Oerth. Nearly all (if not every one) of the adventurers that I’ve written for D&D (and/or other RPG’s) has a detailed background or explanation of how things came to be before the player characters turn up. Some of this detail may be revealed during the adventure itself because of various events, or things found by the players. Some may be revealed after careful searching, or investigation. A lot of it will likely never be known by the players, and exists because I like reasons for things and I really enjoy writing this sort of stuff.
For example: one of my adventures has a partial diary that was handed to the players (eight pages on 3 x 6″ parchment paper), a family tree and details on the whole family. The players are trying to learn about events seventy years after the last of the family died, and stop a curse that began nearly 200 years ago. My players learned most of the background (since it was presented to them as part of the adventure) but weren’t able to bring an end to the curse.
I find that character background works the same way. Players enjoy choosing their class, race/species, sex, hair and eye colour. They are happy to make a few rolls on the tables presented to determine height, weight and origin/place of birth. For D&D I have tables that determine a few details about siblings and parents in addition to country of origin – and I might write a few lines of background for the character that the rolls inspire me to. The players themselves rarely develop a back-story or pay much attention to these sorts of things after character creation. How many players show interest in their characters going “home” or contacting relatives at any time in their adventuring life. (Did all the players determine/decide that they are an orphan!)
I’ve seen a number of starting adventures that give a reason for how and why the PC’s have met. Some do this better than meeting together in a tavern or sheltering under a tree or in a cave during a storm.
For quite a long time I’ve been writing a D&D adventure that provides a detailed reason for why a bunch of people of different races, born far apart, from varied countries and cultures, suddenly get together and form a group that stays together. As a part of this I’ve determined a whole bunch of random backgrounds by race, that players can choose from for a quick start on where they were born (town/city/country), as well as siblings, and parents mortality/occupation. The main part of this introductory adventure will start by dealing with individual characters in their home town, while the other players control NPC’s that represent friends or relatives. Once a certain event is resolved, we will change to the next player around the table… and so on. As a part of this I’ve been looking at detail such as what day, month and year this will start on. The phases of the moon became relevant and I decided it would be interesting to determine what time things would be happening for each player considering they will start at different places in the Flanaess.
I spent some time yesterday and today going over my maps, reading different resource material (primarily the “Glossography” from the 1983 Greyhawk set, and “Greyhawk” 1998 guides) and a little internet searching. I found that other people have asked questions, but no-one appears to have done the work to provide distinct answers, so I did the rest of the work myself.
The resources available already provide climate data, weather tables, phases of the two moons, and details of sunrise and sunset in the city of Greyhawk. They also locate the main area of the Flanaess in the northern hemisphere of the planet between 15 degrees and 60 degrees of latitude. Oerth is a sphere, with a given circumference of 25,200 miles. The region of the Flanaess covers approx 3,000 x 4,000 miles, depending on which maps you use. Since Oerth is only slightly larger than Earth, it makes sense to treat things in the same way. Dividing it into 24 time-zones where each zone covers 15 degrees leads to zones of 1,050 miles or 35 hexes each. (All of the large hex maps that I have of the Flanaess are 30 miles to a hex.)
This means that the Flanaess can be considered to span nearly five complete time zones. This puts Greyhawk City (GMT = Greyhawk Mean Time) in the central zone. Starting from the east edge of my Dungeon magazine map (WotC 2005) the zones become A to I1 (+2 hours), J1 to R2 (+1 hour), S2 to A4 (GMT), B4 to J5 (-1 Hour) and K5 to S6 (-2 Hours), although the western map edge is K6.
On this image – the black lines mark the time zones and the red dot is Greyhawk City.
The lines could be bumped to the sides in a few places (as in real life) so that countries fit into one zone, but (being as large as it is) the “Great Kingdom” spreads over two zones. If the first line on the east side of the map was placed closer to the edge of the Great Kingdom’s coast, then it would almost fit in one zone.
Here’s a second map with a more effective set of divisions, which produces six zones. It gets a bit confused in the west, where there are a lot of smaller countries:
There we go… and that’s certainly filled in a fair bit of time today that I could have been painting in! But now I have differences in time for the countries in the Greyhawk world. I wonder what will side-track me next…
Interesting post. I like what you’ve done with the timezones/ As far as character background goes, it really depends on the types of players you have, and how “important” their background is and how much of it is incorporated into the adventures. I really like the “round-table” character background idea as well.
I’ve been setting up a Rogue Trader campaign on and off for a couple of years (that damned inch-thick rulebook, and work beating me down!) but we’ve put some time into the character backgrounds, and the adventure will have quite a few callbacks to their origin tales. When you’ve got a very mathematically-minded player who min-maxes their stats and skills there’s not much you can do about *that*, except allow them to do it (it’s their character, after all) and give them the heroic combat that they crave, but also throw in enough of the “other stuff” so they see how useful non-murder skills can be, while (hopefully) also having fun doing it!
Players are all very different. Over the years I’ve only had one player who really cared about background – he wrote a history for his character up until he met everyone else. Another player once made a joke (in character) that his brother was better looking than he was – and he was a half-orc. This fitted with the origin location (the character was from a region invaded by orcs), and I actually made a NPC who has been in and out of the campaign. It’s good when anything that is suggested can come back into a game.
Combat / non-combat… I think a lot of games come done to the fighting and collecting loot, but it’s great when something different can be introduced and the players really get into it!