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Welcome to Vaalbára -- Homebrew Setting for OpenQuest (et. al.)


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Hi, all--

I'm new here. I've been wanting to get back into RPGs, and recently settled on OpenQuest as my system of choice. We've had a few sessions at home with my 10-year-old son and my wife, and I'm trying to get ready to hold some sessions with a local gaming group.

Being a map geek, I felt like we needed a setting, rather than just some random dungeon locations. So I cooked up Vaalbára, which is a fairly dangerous place worthy of being explored, but which avoids some of my pet peeves (just like OpenQuest does with all the D&D rules that never made sense to me :) ).

Anyway, I thought it'd be fun to post the introductory guide that I've written up for players (it's a work in progress, but probably always will be). I've also posted my incomplete (and cat-wrinkled) map. Friendly feedback would be welcome.

A Guide to Vaalbára

Vaalbára is the western portion of a massive continent, and is split by a north-south mountain range that runs from the subtropical seas of the south nearly as far as the northern ice-pack.

Along the subtropical southern coast (the “Summer Coast”) there are city-states with major ports, walled towns, and their own agricultural lands. Major city-states include Seljek, on the delta of the Selj River; the island city of Min; and Varnek, on the estuary of the River Varn, which runs from north to south on the east side of the mountains. Small, unaffiliated fishing villages are scattered along the coast. Between the city-states are hundreds of miles of wilderness. Trade between city-states is by sea. There are stories of old trade routes over the mountains or through the forests, but they're forgotten or little-used.

The northwestern coast (the "Winter Coast") & the areas inland tend to have smaller, independent towns (elder council), but towns on the coast do trade with the South. The region also has scattered villages, Vaalbaran nomadic hunters, and Pelk (NW Pelek) herders.

Mountain towns and villages are usually independent and remote, although they are sometimes connected to the southern coast and the Drylands by minor trade routes.

Most settlements of any size in these regions have established houses of trade guilds, healers' refuges, and schools or archives of the Orders--ancient conclaves of scholars, philosophers, etc.. Many guilds and organizations hire tradespeople and adventurers from time to time when they need skills their membership can't provide.

Outside of the city-states and the scattered settlements of the mountains, human populations are very low, and knowledge of landscapes and their inhabitants is very limited. Travellers and traders are familiar with what's along the trade routes, but few Vaalbárans know the regions beyond them. The less-settled Peleks are more familiar with their territories.

Political structures are post-imperial—the Western or Vaalbáran Empire gradually fell apart centuries ago, and no large power has risen to replace it. The city-states and nomadic tribes have the largest territories. Even for the city-states, boundaries are vague, and elsewhere they are rarely even discussed. The main influence of the fallen empire is on languages—South Vaalbaran and West Vaalbaran are mutually intelligible—and on the mix of ethnicities found on both coasts. Ruins from more ancient cultures are sometimes found, but little is known about them.

East of the mountains are savannas, grasslands, and deserts ("The Drylands") inhabited by the Pelek culture, who live as nomads or in isolated farming villages. Beyond these lands are little-known places from which trading caravans sometimes appear.


South Vaalbáran*

West Vaalbáran*

Pelek (aka "Drylander")

Dor-pelek (aka "Caravaneer") (trade pidgin of Pelek and little-known Doraai, eastern language)

( * mutually intelligible variants of the Western Empire language, now spoken by various ethnicities/cultures; intergrades from south coast through mountains to north/northwest)



(not a complete list; some orders are obscure, purposely or not)

Order of Martínus the Scholar (archives, history, sciences, lost knowledge -- scribes to cities, towns, orders) ("gray robes", "scholars," "marts")

Charitable Order of Feláryn the Healer (midwives, herbalists, healers, surgeons)

Order of Navigators (coastal cities/towns)

Academies of Ancient Vaalbára (philosophers, scholars, eccentrics) (scattered) ("brown robes,” "bug-eyes")

Wizards' Guild (anywhere) (very loosely organized, even more eccentric)

Background for the gaming group's sessions:

The characters are part of a group of adventurers, travellers, traders, etc., who have been caught in the mountain town of Aarnbridge after a massive spring snowfall. The only real road out of Aarnvale, which is a river basin surrounded by alpine peaks, is still blocked by snowdrifts and avalanches, even though the farms and woods are greening up. After a month or so stuck in the small town, the characters are getting to be bored...and poor. Just at the point that they're about ready to steal some shovels and dig the road clear themselves, a request for help comes from an unexpected quarter.

Character Options:

* All characters are human (there are rumors of other humanoids, but ... )

* In this setting, warriors/barbarians will only be NPCs. Settlements and tribes will trained and designated defenders among their citizenry, but those people have other primary jobs, and professional (or pathological) fighters are not trusted.

* Although magic is common among adventuring types, it is not a part of daily life for most people. Full-time wizard characters are possible, but they should be rare and a touch quirky. Most people will avoid or mistrust wizards unless they're somehow amusing. Sorcerers (a different kind of magic) exist, but are rare and mysterious and are only NPCs.

What's Not There

  • No Dark Lord
  • No massive warring kingdoms or oppressive, watchful empires
  • No feudalism
  • No clerics (walking first-aid kits) or religions/cults; therefore, no divine magic
  • Monsters – no monsters that are just giant animals; no head-of-this, body-of-that monsters; no monster-movie monsters (werewolves, vampires);
  • No slavery or other organized creepy treatment of humans (et. al.)
  • No wallowing in hellish, soul-rending darkness.


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On the Hârn forum, someone pointed out that I said what Vaalbára *doesn't* have, but not much about what it does have, which was a good poinit. Here's a bit more--

Some ideas/hooks so far:

* The reasons that sorcerers are not available as PCs is that they're going to be a major source of conflict. Both sets of players are going to encounter some fairly bizarre sorcerer-summoned demons, and eventually they're going to get pulled into figuring out what's going on and/or trying to stop the demons.

* The various orders I mentioned will be a source of adventures--they're going to need adventurers to find artifacts, carry secret messages, etc. The gaming group's first adventure is going to involve supporting a scholars' "chantry" who get in over their heads investigating what will turn out to be one of those demon problems.

* The home group is about to encounter our version of the Uthriem Roliri [a secret ranger brotherhood on Hârn], who could use a couple of townie adventurers to take care of some in-town problems without being tied in to it. The replacement for elves in this setting is going to be a communicative version of Harn's tawedogs, and the ranger-y types will be the connection to them. (Speaking of rangers, I'm finally going to use my idea of ranger-types adapted to lots of terrains, including deserts, steppes, etc.)

* I haven't done as much on the city-states yet, but they're certainly going to have conflicts generated by merchants' guilds, which will overlap quite a bit with the ruling councils. My son and wife both wanted to play spy/rogue characters, so inter-city espionage is on the table. The city-states also provide adventures about missing ships, piracy, etc.

[edit: forgot to mention intrigue caused by spies, traders, and strange objects brought in on the trading caravans from the east. Easterners have the caravan trade tied up, so few Vaalbarans have been east; somebody's going to need to sneak out that way, too.]

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