One of my hobbies recently has been to work on using the Far Away Land RPG rules to run a game for my young daughters. To that end, I’ve been building a world and pondering ways to make the game more friendly (read “less deadly”) for young players. I am thinking about modeling it on battle anime, where despite whatever else it might be about, it usually involves one or more fight scenes each episode, like One Piece or Naruto. Despite deadly foes, there is rarely real character death involved. People may be thrashed, but they recover, train more, and go to battle again, perhaps with some new wisdom or a trick up their sleeve.
This is not to say that I am planning on running a game that is nothing but battles, but when they do fight, if they should happen to lose, I am not going to pronounce their characters dead and cut up their character sheet. Instead, they’re going to be set back. Some time will pass. NPCs will have time to act in the PC’s absence, so goals and adventure hooks will have changed.
I am considering the conceit that this game world is a shared world that the PCs enter in their dreams, an idea that always stuck with me after reading the Lovecraft short story, “Polaris.” So this world the PCs visit will be as real as our own, but they need to figure out why they are going there (if they want; I suppose they could just enjoy the freedom of adventuring). Death in this world, however, results in dissolution and waking back up in the “real” world. When they return to sleep and the dream world, time has passed.
It’s just an idea and I’ll have to see how it stands up to the reality of gaming with 5-year-olds, but I’m having fun drawing up maps and populating the world. For that, the Far Away Land setting and creatures work perfectly. There are enough creatures for variety but not so many as to be overwhelming, and it’s fairly easy to create my own creatures as needed.
The PCs are going to start off in the small village of Silkin, and then I’m going to leave it up to them what they’d like to do, although sandbox play with 5-year-olds can be difficult, so I will guide them toward adventures if needed. Here’s what I have so far:
Silkin, a remote village: A rock-iron giant fell to Earth here and remains in a deep pit in the center of the village, where its rust has colored the earth beneath it a dark red. There are a few large circular buildings in town, which have low walls because the rooms are actually underground, accessible by a staircase that leads to a main door. The rectangular meeting halls are above ground A-frame buildings. The smaller one is the men’s hall and the larger one is the women’s hall. Both can also be reached by the warren of underground passages that lies beneath the village.
Silkin is made up of dwarves, simians, and ratlings who live together in peace under the guidance of an elderly Orka named Mokranus. They are all outcast from their respective societies. In the case of the simians and ratlings, it is because they are peaceful folk. In the case of the dwarves, it is because their people were long ago exiled from their home under the mountains to the east. Mokranus took up residence to study the iron-rock giant and has grown old here awaiting the moment when the giant will awaken.
The simians and ratlings tend the farmland surrounding the village, while the dwarves dig beneath the earth for ore to make tools (and because they like to dig). Beyond the farmland is deep forest, although to the north and south the remains of an old trail remain, marked by a crumbling wall. The people of Silkin rarely receive visitors and are suspicious of outsiders, but if the PCs can prove that they mean no harm, they will find a place to rest and, in Makronus, a source of information about the world they suddenly find themselves in.
Seeking knowledge: If the PCs want to discover why they might have been pulled from their realm into this one, Makronus suggests that they seek the mountainside Temple of Ajurna to the northeast. He warns, though, that the path is perilous as the mountains are home to all sorts of foul beasts. If the PCs have befriended any villagers, they might find some amongst them who are willing to travel with them. Dwarves especially would be useful companions.
Something brewing: The dwarves report that in their underground excavations, they have run into some underground folk who are constantly ruining the dwarves’ work. So far it hasn’t gotten deadly, but the creatures triggered a cave-in the other day that might have killed someone. The dwarves are ready to deal with these creatures by force if need be.
Civilization to the South: The crumbling wall and the path that runs alongside it is more intact to the south, and the villagers say that there are larger cities in that direction. Although they don’t advise traveling, they do admit that if the PCs want answers, perhaps some wizard or ruler to the south might have an answer.