Dungeons & Dragons 2019!

This week, we officially started our Dungeons and Dragons campaign and I’m the DM! I am very, very excited about this game not only because it gives me an excuse to talk in funny voices but because I’ve never DMed before. The DM, or DungeonMaster, is in charge of worldbuilding – creating not only the landscapes that players encounter but the people, monsters, and adventures they discover therein. I’ve created a new tag on this blog to document what I can of this first adventure. The following is the intro to the world that I gave all our players as we sat down this past Tuesday to begin our first session…

Welcome to Susstra. This is a watery world, full of salt flats and marshes and evergreen islands dotting clear channels of fast-moving rivers and wide, deep slow sections where cities huddle, monopolizing a bridge or a ferry-crossing. This is a world of rapids and waterfalls, of canals and flood plains. The known continent – this one that we’re all inhabiting – is divided into many lands.

The creatures who inhabit these lands are as different as the waters that divide them. Some – like the halflings of the Shire – keep to themselves. Some – like the humanoids that populate the lowland salt flats – live in mixed communities where humans, half-orcs, dragonborn, teiflings, and all manner of elves live side by side. Lots of countryside is wild, and unclaimed; lots of it is also claimed by various kings, barons, councils, and collections of magic-wielders. Most clusters of people form townships; cities are rare and tend to be clustered around major ports. Generally, whatever local government runs the surrounding countryside with whatever magic, muscle, and manipulation they can manage; travelers generally stick to waterways, which are considered more neutral that highways on land (which tend to be dangerous, swarming with vicious highwaymen).

There are lots of gods in this world and demigods and semigods – lots of beings with power in this part of the universe. Here the streams of knowledge of how to manipulate energy, like the streams and rivers of the continent, are abundant and fractal. Magic is abundant. Wield enough of it, and you can call yourself whatever you want.

But also, be careful who you claim to be descended from, because the gods are present and can be prickly about how you talk about them. People worship freely to a pantheon of water deities like the many waterways of this land: fluid, branching, forever changing, sometimes nourishing, sometimes terrible. Parent gods are highly localized, often the anthropomorphization of rivers, lakes, harbors, waterfalls and other places of water that supports life. Clustered around them are their godly offspring and plentiful mortal children – both walk among mortal creatures. They called upon to bestow favors and, depending on how powerful they are, some can actually grant them. Not everyone cares, but the existence of the grandparents of all deities, the parents of all waters – Ocean, River, and Rain – is hotly debated among scholars, priests, and others interested in the divine.

This city, the city, Siilvan, is no mere sad feudal holding, it’s the greatest metropolis in this hemisphere. For as far as a boat can take you on this watery continent, all the way from ocean to unbroken ocean, this is where people – human, elf, dragonborn, teifling, halfing, dwarf, orc, and every bastardization thereof – came to live and die in hope and squalor. The city is tense and sprawling, crowded and squat, huddled on an archipelago of rocky islands, at the delta of three major rivers, where they flow together into one great channel and out to the open sea.

Some islands are for the rich, who rule the city by proxy through the governers, much spoken of but rarely visited, glimpsed only across the waters. Most islands are filled with the poor, and are filled with short buildings clustered chaotically around open-air marketplaces. The islands are linked by bridge and ferry; the waters between them are fast-moving and swirling with hard-to-predict currents which keep the poor from swimming over to and overwhelming the strongholds of the rich.

Everyone knows the governers are corrupt but most people feel neutral or resigned to them; this system has been in place for generations, becoming more and more corrupt but by slow degrees. Having the governers favor makes your life easier but they prefer to make life hard. You are here tonight because you’ve heard a rumor: someone here is a representative of the governers (or just one of them? a coalition? you’ve all heard different rumors) who is looking to assemble a multiracial team to do a big job, one that could earn you a spot on one of the nicer islands, a cushy life, gold for days, influence over the city, and the life you’ve only imagined. Only one job and then, your wildest dreams fulfilled. Seems almost too good to be true…

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Mel Compo is an interdisciplinary artist, playworker, and facilitator at the New York City Agile Learning Center. Their work with children centers play, art-making, city adventuring, and open conversation about language, bodies, gender, networks, emotional intelligence, brain plasticity, and cycles of growth. Mel studied the intersections of SDE, poetry, and the history of American education NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. They live in Brooklyn, New York.

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