Power Centers and the Wilderness

In 1974 D&D, the assumed campaign setting is an expanse of chaotic wilderness with isolated domains controlled by powerful NPCs. High-level PCs might also at some point aspire to roll back part of the wilderness and carve out their own domain (rather detailed rules for doing this, including prices for components of strongholds are given in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, pages 20 through 24). The assumption is that a dungeon will be located nearby the town where PCs start, and will occupy those characters for (at least) their first few levels. The overland wilderness is considered too dangerous for small parties of low level adventurers. A method is given for determining the residents of strongholds once the adventurers have graduated from dungeoneering (TU&WA pages 15 and 16). These articles contain a method for generating wilderness settings

Based on the scaffolding given in the 3 LBBs, Victor Raymond wrote a fantastic pair of articles for Fight On! that contain a method for generating wilderness settings. It is called The Wilderness Architect (found in issue 2 page 52 and issue 3 page 118) and is based on a thread at the ODD74 forums. They assume that the campaign starts in or near an existing stronghold, and have tools to determine the population of the stronghold (which in turn determines the lord’s tax base), how to distribute the population among villages, and how close other strongholds are (that which is not controlled by a stronghold is assumed to be chaotic wilderness). In essence, it is a mapping of social power centers.
As a side note, I think it is truly inspired to have the rules for creating strongholds for PCs be more or less the same as rules for creating strongholds that are encountered in the wilderness by PCs. I don’t think any other edition of D&D or game since then has really expanded on this idea, or at least none that I know of.

There are kinds of power centers other than civilization, though. This thought struck me when reading Trollsmyth’s series on hex mapping:

I want to place the dragons now because they’ll likely distort the social map. Few people want to live next-door to a dragon.

I think this idea of power centers can profitably be the guiding principle for wilderness setting design.

In addition to strongholds and monsters, I think there might be other things that might warp the surrounding area. Powerful artifacts, perhaps, or magical natural phenomena. A few ideas for other sources of chaotic influence:
  • Undying lord or knight and undead court
  • Faerie enclave (elves, gnomes)
  • Dragon lair and hunting grounds
  • Vampire lord and flock
  • Cursed location (ancient battlefield, ghost town, cemetery)
  • Source of super-science (crashed space ship, ancient technological ruins)
  • Dangerous ground (radioactive wasteland, wild magic zone)
Here I am considering elves part of the wilderness and therefor chaotic, though they are not necessarily wicked from a human perspective. Obviously, PC elves need not be pure agents of chaos (they are, after all, adventuring with humans by choice), but I at least would like them to be dangerous and alien.
Thus, for power center types, we have:

  • Strongholds (inherently lawful, if sometimes despotic)
  • Dungeons (Entrances to the underworld, sources of chaos)
  • Powerful chaotic monsters
  • Features of the environment that influence nearby residents

This begs for a nice collection of tables that could be plugged into a system similar to The Wilderness Architect, but I’m not feeling all that creative right now, so I will leave that as an exercise for the reader (and maybe a future post).

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