Curse of the Lost Memories Campaign and You: a DM Guide

As books start trickling out, here is a DM-centric guide to starting the campaign. Curse of the Lost Memories gives you the credits and jumps right into the thick of it to get the campaign started. Due to page count, what is not in a book is a discussion on how to carefully start your campaign to maximize the game’s fun for both the players and you. So let’s back up to the beginning: why run Curse of the Lost Memories?

Hard Fantasy Means Grit, No Handwavium, and Rationality

Curse of the Lost Memories is hard fantasy.

Hard fantasy has a rational, plausible system of rules for the setting, which includes the definition and use of magic. The system used does not bend for a narrative, “hand-wavium” convenience. That doesn’t mean that hard magic has a scientific explanation and current logical principles; instead, it has internal consistency.

Hard fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean low fantasy (and the Kingdom of Lothmar is definitely not low fantasy) and not just about magic, but does take into account magical principles on everyday society—and this impacts your game sessions.

As a DM, this is the difference between Griffon Lore Games settings and other settings—especially settings that are post-apocalyptic (Greyhawk) or built on the many ruins of previous societies (Forgotten Realms, Numenera). If something is magical, it conforms to the rules of magic and not merely something that the DM explains as “powerful magic from the ancients.”

This is the time of the ancients. Your PCs are running around in a setting that is the height of magic—divine and arcane. Even the ancient druids, reputed to have drawn the gods to the Welt and had access to primordial magic called “world spells,” are bound by limits—as evident by the disposition of the PCs being curse up the wazzu. World Magic isn’t gone for good, the PCs are cursed and don’t have access to it.

But in the last module of the campaign (adventure path in Pathfinder terms), PCs can grab the reins of this primordial magic. They will need to make some tough choices on how they exit the campaign.

So, no handwavium. Keeping within the attributes of hard fantasy gives you the tools to add conflict and tension within the fantasy system.


It’s a gritty world out there in the Kingdom of Lothmar. The common folk have a good life and have a reasonable expectation of living their lives without violence and pestilence. Females usually survive childbirth, and infant mortality is low–all characteristics of a fantasy setting with access to knowledge and magic defined by 5E and Pathfinder.

However, commoners know that if they wander too far from other people, it’s eat or be eaten. Travel along the old Imperial Road system is mostly safe, but people who don’t stick together, or travel under the protection of a knight or men-at-arms, are fair game to all manner of hazards. Everything from trolls to natural hazards such as flash flooding, to political rivals, are hazards. And wandering into the wilderness, while rewarding both spiritually and possibly monetarily, is perilous.

People in Lothmar have a high sense of community for safety reasons. Going it alone is harsh, and so the feudal system isn’t merely a method for controlling the rift-raft. It’s a mechanism to keep people alive until old age.

So, people like the PCs, who wander off the beaten path, usually hired by knights to go clean out some den of nastiness, are viewed with awe, deference, reverence and a bit of suspicion.

DM Tip: As the adventure progresses, keep the rationality of the magical system, and, in conjunction with the setting, that will add immersion to your game sessions. Avoid effects that can’t be explained within the confines of the game books, source material, and internal consistency.

Scale vs. Open World Gaming

Scale is a campaign killer.

This is a good scale for 1st Level PCs. The Village of Hommlet in TSR’s T1 is another example of a great starting location.

There is a reason the Village at the Crossroads has significant detail oriented around the common folk and the power players—it provides the adventure a sense that the world continues when the PCs are not in it.

This is the basis for world-building. A world that seems to exist outside the context of the PCs is a world that is fun to play in because it doesn’t adjust by plot convenience but rather by the motivations of the PCs and NPCs within it.

Sometimes shit happens. In the Kingdom of Lothmar, flooding is a natural hazard, along with poor harvests and sometimes draught. Events such as these add to the gritty feel of the world.

So, what does this have to do with scale? By deemphasizing the hazardous nature of overland travel or by having the plot having the PCs wander hundreds and hundreds of miles in the early levels, their level of interest in the world around them appropriately decreases. Why become friends with the local knight if the module sends your 300 miles north? Who cares if the Dame needs help if the PCs are going to abandon them all in pursuit of a goal?

Every time we, as DMs, give players an excuse to not care about NPCs, they’ll take it. Nothing says Fuck Your NPC like requiring PCs to go where those NPCs aren’t.

Conversely, an open world has its own challenges. The PCs could contrive a reasonable and rational reason to travel outside of the bounds of the module. What’s a DM to do?

DM Tip: This is D&D. Well, 5E and Pathfinder, but both D&D. The DM in an open world where players have agency has the responsibility to world-build. But the players also have the responsibility to play the game. Tell the players if they want to wander off the map, you as the DM need time to prepare for that. I’ve even gone so far as to end a game session early—hey, you guys wandered in a direction I don’t have fleshed out. Let me take care of that, and we’ll pick it up next session.

Consequently, the players also have a responsibility to tell the DM, if they know where they are headed, that actual direction. Ahead of time. Communicate this in Session 0. However, back to the actual module, regardless of the reason, there are no answers to their curse outside of the Barony of Lothmar.

We plan to have Campaign Guide out this year. It will be a big help for running a campaign in our setting, especially with players that like to wander and meet NPCs.

Motivation: the DM NPC Hack

One way to immerse your PCs into a game setting is to have convincing NPCs. And NPCs that have their own motives articulated and documented become NPCs that, again, seem to exist without the PCs.

Motivations make your NPCs come alive.

DM Tip: But what also adds to the world is the changes the PCs and NPCs. The PCs have their own motivations (impacted by your players’ motives!), and so do the NPCs. Keep track of both the listed NPCs desires and disposition towards the PCs and adjust accordingly. This is the hack to the entire campaign—you don’t need to keep track of all the reasons Sarah doesn’t like the PC Bard (although as a bard you can probably guess). All you need to know is her disposition is hostile. She’ll pursue her own interests, as documented by her NPC description, but she’ll also have an inclination to act one way or the other to the manipulative and shallow bard.

Hard Choices – Mechanics

Beyond campaign philosophy that adds flavor to your adventure, there are mechanics the DM should become familiar with and use to his or her advantage.

PC Character Creation

The DM needs to focus on the introductory chapter. The Player’s Guide doesn’t explain how to implement the boon matrix or the other bonus attributed to their character sheet and it certainly doesn’t discuss their curse. The DM may want the players to have fun mixing and match PCs to boons instead of using the suggested curse/boon.

A 5E variation report from Hero Lab included in the Pre-Gen PC Pack (available for download). Pathfinder PDFs have the same report.

DM Tip: Use the Pre-Generated PCs to reveal the mechanics behind the individual boons. If you have Hero Lab, the POR files can be of use (especially if you are using Pathfinder) to illustrate the mechanical effect, which is also on the PC character sheet. Each PC also comes with a backstory with support of the campaign lore, some of which we have not published yet.

A 5E Epic Boon Example from Hero Lab.

For 5E campaigns, we use the Epic Boon and Bonus Feats mechanic. Since Epic Boons are not in D&D Beyond (a standard tool) yet, a player can implement them using feats and custom feats that they can apply from the character sheet. In 5E, The Player’s Handbook and Dungeonmaster’s Guide is necessary to implement PC creation.

One example of where to implement custom and standard feats in D&D Beyond. Note it is necessary to use the Player’s Handbook and DMG in order to utilize the suggested boon and curse matrix.

Difficulty Setting

The Fallen Barony of Wailmoor is a dangerous place. It’s been ignored for far too long and now whoever travels to there (the PCs), pay the price for this neglect.

DM Tip: Add to the grittiness by avoiding adjusting a Challenge Rating down. For any reason. We’ve given PCs extra powers for a purpose. If there are only three PCs, well, then, they better be sneaky little bastards, they better work in tandem and they better use the Lady in the Tower to help against the Dead Knight Harakan or they are going to die. A lot.

Some encounters may be too easy for a group of six—if the players aren’t playing cautiously, even with six players, there is reasonable chance (in Challenge Rating mechanics) for them to die in numerous places. And sometimes having six players leads to analysis paralysis, which, through inaction, can also lead to a TPK.

The Death Mechanic introduced in the module might seem like an MMO intrusion into our happy-fun world for Easy Mode, but it is definitely anything but. We encourage you to use it. “Never die” might seem like a boon, but it’s part of the PCs curse. And in the following modules, it gets worse. Players that don’t keep it together find themselves diminished and usually facing the same problem that killed them in the first place, but now with decreased ability scores until they level again.

Time, Your Campaign Mechanic

This is a module in a detailed campaign setting. Just look at Anna’s map to see the level detail available to the DM. And with that detail comes the advantage that time can add to a campaign fun factor.

There is no overall doom clock running. Some events will happen with or without PCs in later modules (such as war and faction conflict), and the PCs, if they ignore the corruption so close to the Crossroads Village, will be met with the devastation from their cowardly choice to ignore it. But within the module, the PCs themselves are rewarded by cautious, slow play, rather than rushing against the clock added for dramatic purposes with no other reason. Overused, a doom clock is both a break in both immersion and hard fantasy philosophy.

The Temple of Dvalin can take PCs months of in-game time to progress. It’s a tough nut to crack, using magic they don’t have access to yet (but will later), filled with terrible monsters in the basement (regenerating bone golem is regenerating), with requisite knowledge locked in a vault that requires personal sacrifice.

But it’s a choice, isn’t it? The players chose their classes and deities to worship. If one of them decided to be a cleric or paladin of Dvalin, well, their progression is going to be easier. It is not unfair if no one in the party is a divine servant of Dvalin. It just is.

That’s hard fantasy. Choices matter—all the way back to character creation.

DM Tip: Preserve the advantages of campaign play by not setting arbitrary time limits. During the adventure, the Wailmoor is their land. No one is going to bother them. It may be monster infested, corrupt land, but it is over 12-square miles, 144 miles of detailed territory, to claim as their own or extract the resources from within.


Speaking of Dvalin, religion infuses everything in the Chronicles of the Celestial Chains campaign. Sages have visited Purgatory and Mt. Elysa and come back with evidence of their existence. Everyone is religious in the campaign setting. Atheists are dealt with harshly in all lands as corruptive demon worshipers. For example, in dwarven communities, the local authorities will simply shrug, take the offender out back and slit his throat. In the Royal Lands, the person will be put on trial and banished. In the Duchy of Hardred, they are burned at the stake.

DM Tip: the Temple of Dvalin is the first place that players see how religion impacts the campaign world. These are the people, after all, that built the dam to the south that is powering all the corrupted and non-corrupted wards. As the campaign progresses, the conflict between Law and Chaos (as opposed to Good and Evil), brings religion into the forefront. A prudent DM should become very familiar with the religion appendix in the back of the module. DMs using their own pantheon (or a different product’s pantheons) will need to do some mapping between the deities presented to deities used in the campaign world.

5E Deity Table located both in the Player’s Guide and module appendix.

But we hope you will consider our presented pantheon, with considerable expansion in the Kingdom of Lothmar Campaign Guide.


Pay close attention to racial differences between our campaign lore and other products. Elves are not reincarnated bemoaning lost and ancient magic—they are eugenicists with the ability to invest a lot of time into furthering the elven goals and many cases, not friendly people. Half-orcs are not moody brutes but seen as the product of two warrior races and treated with awe. Dragonborn are not a race but the outcome of a dragon in human form mating with a human.

DM Tip: Both the Introduction chapter and the Player’s Guide define the presented races. Mechanic wise, educated people view two-legged free-willed beings with a soul as a single species and the variation of the soul-bound as racial differences. Encourage players to chose their race based on the definition in the Player’s Guide.

Final Thoughts

This is a tough adventure and can be made tougher without a lot of effort on the DMs part. PCs should encounter a mix of friends and enemies that are both easy to deal with and above their pay grade. We designed the Wailmoor to be an open-world, wander around type-of-environment. And they can literally walk into a floating leech swarm that sucks all their blood. Some players are not used to having so much agency. They could encounter 5 trolls at Level 1 and think there is some “trick” to overcome the encounter when the “trick” is merely to run away. Quickly.

DM Tip: Tell the PCs up front that this is less Harry Potter and more Games of Thrones. Tell them this is a setting where the bad guys are not villains in their own story. Encourage them without foreshadowing to read the player’s guide and to be less murder hobos and more PCs that can impact the world around them, for good or bad, with their mere presence.

As always, chat with us on our Discord Channel or leave a comment here to start a conversation.

Stretch Goal #2 Reached: Mohr Maps! And Have a Video Update

BOOM! Another Stretch Goal Reached! Mohr Maps! WE LOVE ALL OF YOU!

This makes the Map Folio just that more awesome. And if you’re on the printed map tier, you are getting a heck of a deal. You’ll open the shipping tube and out pours high-quality MAP GOODNESS you don’t normally see in adventure path modules.

Stretch Goal #3 is Kicked into High Gear Interior Design and Artwork. We’re going to go crazy with functional, but highly stylish-artistic, interior art. We’re talking opening the book and going whoa. And the book layout. Will be. So incredible!

Please back us on Kickstarter!

Have a video update, in which Anthony talks about Hard Fantasy.

The Best Adventure Modules Start With a TPK

Not literally, of course (unless yer talk’n about some undead campaign), but the ever-present honest-to-Istus looming threat of the real possibility that the Game Master (GM) will let it happen and the party is dead forevermore, no NPC white-wash-find-the-bodies-and-Raise-Dead, etc., etc.

Now, before I go further, this isn’t an original concept for moi. Entire product lines are predicated around TPK threats in encounters and advocating tough games. So, not blazing fresh territory here, at all.

But I have a Griffon Lore Games spin. This post is part one of The Campaign Imagination Engine blog post series.

Deaths and the Game Master

That section title sounds like a bad early-80’s sitcom. But I digress.

Before going into the TPK, let’s talk about the GM (DM in D&D speak).

What’s the main function of the GM in the fantasy Role-Playing Game? There’s a bunch of attributes we can slap on to that, but let’s prioritize. The GM:

Lays the foundation for the game by populating Non-Player Characters (NPCs), monsters and villains in a fantasy setting in order to:

Be the role-playing arbitrator of the story the PCs are telling in order to:

Be the conflict arbitrator of the conflict the PCs are creating

I’m talking campaign play, not off-the-shelf one-offs, living campaigns or gaming societies. Once the GM and the players are going to venture forth on their own by playing in a campaign world, well, that’s when the magic starts happening!

The GM Hierarchy of Giving goes like this—a campaign has a start. The GM determines where that start is based numerous things that need to be determined ahead of time. Many DMs purchase campaign worlds to help them with this start, some roll their own, just as many take a world and heavily modify it.

Once the campaign world is set and the game starts, the GM, at that point should be the arbitrator of the narrative the PCs are creating. For themselves. Sure, there may be an adventure, or adventure path tossed in, but GMs should rise above their own narrative desires and embrace the story-telling the players are creating.

And once that occurs, the GM really is the neutral third-party to the conflict going on at the game table. The GM has no skin in the game insofar keeping everyone alive so the players can have fun. Fun isn’t just winning at the game table. It’s heroic wish fulfillment. And a PC can’t be a hero if they don’t have a stake in the game and if they don’t have the consequences of failure.

And once that occurs—the TPK falls under the story telling auspices of the PCs. The GM is no longer responsible for that TPK.

The party did it to themselves.

It was a TPS: Total Party Suicide. Oh, sure, maybe the GM screwed up and flubbed the difficulty by accident. More than likely, the PCs in a game where they are the drivers of the story, failed at combined arms. Or just had some bad dice. Or, a combination of the two.

It took me years to understand the real role of a GM. Years of GMing, years of playing, years of playing MMO. Feedback from players, feedback from GMs.

Being the GM using a Campaign Imagination Engine means letting go of the story. Stepping back, and letting the players run with it.

The larger benefit of that philosophy is player deaths are a blip in the player’s world, not yours. Your shackles have been removed. You are now free to create encounters that have weight and meaning.

The Wailmoor, a pretty setting for a TPK.

TPK Where the PCs Drive the Story Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

So, with an understanding of the GMs real role in player death, encounters that have a chance of killing PCs bumps up the game a rather large notch, doesn’t it? But if we have most combat encounters like that, aren’t we becoming too formulaic? Isn’t there some drama to the lead up to the Big Bad?

That’s just it. Once the GM lets go of the baby, the lead up to the Big Bad can be just as interesting as the Big Bad. Here’s a look at hard encounters leading up to a TPK encounter. Which is like, but dramatically different from, the resource draining encounter leading up to the only real challenge.

PCs have a talky-talk encounter that leads them to an area.

On the way, the PCs encounter some Bad Guys that are super motivated to prevent them from getting to that area. These encounters have the capability of killing some PCs. The NPC motivation: prevent PCs from going forth. This has nothing to do with draining 25% of a player’s resources. It has everything to do with preventing the players from getting from point A to point B.

Maybe Bob the Ranger dies on the way. Now the PCs have some handy information. The Big Bad can kill them. Heck, someone else could die on the way!

Arrival. The virgin is in the cage, waiting for darkest hour to be sacrificed. The Big Bad is angry. He has everything to both lose and win. So, he goes at it with everything he has. Now it’s the PCs who have everything to lose or win–this encounter has the capability of killing them all!

But, but, but, what if this is a neutral party with no paladin. Maybe they don’t care about the virgin, they care about how much money they can get when they bring the virgin back to the Baron, her father. Maybe the Big Bad sleuths this out and simply gives the PCs a greater reward to turn around and pretend they didn’t find the Big Bad.

Well why would the PCs simply not take the reward and then kill him, and then return the virgin, and cash in?

Because, the Big Bad is really a Big Bad. Your mercenary PCs know this. They came here for the money and they are now being offered to leave with the money. Maybe they really, really need the money to do something Super Important. The Super Important overrides the virgin’s desire to live and her father’s to have her back. Or maybe they remember how Big Bad Minion Ganked Ranger Bob. Maybe the players are looking over at Dead Ranger Bob’s player looking forlorn about not being at the Big Bad encounter.

Let’s pretend the PCs take the Big Bad up on his offer because they have bigger fish to fry.

And the Baron finds out and sallies forth to kill them all in an encounter that has a chance to kill them all.

Get it? The TPK this scenario was based on the GM not moving the story along but simply arbitrating PC role-playing:

The PCs KNOW there is a Big Bad coming up because his minions are the shiz-nit and are formidable, and difficult, opponents.

The Big Bad sits there enraged when confronted, but his goal is to sacrifice the virgin. That’s his motivation, and he’ll do everything he can to meet it, including humbling himself by offering a bribe. If not accepted, all bets are off. It’s do or die time–welcome to the chance of a TPK.

The Baron can dole out his own TPK. Bonus points if the Big Bad, still smarting over losing all that loot, drops the hints on what really happened–welcome to the chance of the TPK.

Ah! But maybe there is a paladin in the party. And the paladin needs that coin for the Big Bad his god cares about, and, wait for it, there is a ticking clock. Well then, that makes the Virgin Sacrificing Big Bad offer (VSBB) all that more interesting, does it not? Your PCs free actions in a long-running campaign have more narrative weight than all the Game of Thrones episodes combined.

The above scenarios are dramatically different from the typical module scenario because the typical module scenario is predicated on a narrative, rather than narrative choices.

TPK means never having to say you’re sorry, because it’s was never your story. It was a great run, PCs. Let’s try a 20-point buy on the new characters. Sorry not sorry.

But I Feel Bad Because Everyone Died

That’s a given and natural. There is a point, however, where that feeling is recognized, acknowledged and then dismissed. Your players will go through life without the actual, real thrill of rescuing (or not) the virgin from the VSBB.

They can, however, play D&D or some game where they can find that thrill in a campaign world.

And thus, I’ve concluded, that the GM that doesn’t let their player’s risk going the Ultimate Splat still has narrative control over their stories. It’s less about the PCs all died, and more about your baby, the story you are trying to tell, is now at an end. You don’t want to let go, so, as the GM, you aren’t going to put the players in a position where they can fail because their failure is just a reflection of you.

The Campaign Imagination Engine

This is Griffon Lore Games design philosophy. This is hard fantasy not just as defined by the wikis, but as the foundation to the wonderful difference between an RPG campaign and an MMO where death is simply a re-spawn. Curse of the Lost Memories presents a world in which the GM simply provides a structure for the PCs to start driving their heroic fantasies. There is structure, yes, but there is just as much opportunity to do the hard thing, because the PCs thought it was the right thing.

The best module adventures have the looming threat that the Game Master will let a TPK happen and the party is dead forevermore. Its more than the stakes, it’s a story. Their imagination, kick-started by the GM’s campaign start, made it all possible.

It’s the PCs story.

Best Regards,

Facebook | Kickstarter| Newsletter Signup | YouTube

DM Friendly Modules

All modules are for DMs (or, in Pathfinder, the Game Master aka GM). And there are good, mediocre and bad modules. But even a bad module can have DM friendly features, although modules that have inherent flaws usually have issues with features that make a DM’s life easier.

Here at Griffon Lore Games (I admit it; I just like typing “Griffon Lore Games”), we think about making the DMs life easier all the time. Mainly because we are DMs ourselves. Here are some of the things we do to make the life easier for the DM to run our adventures:

Prioritized Lore: Lore that directly impacts the PCs has priority over descriptive text that has no consequence to the current adventure but may be beneficial to the DM in other ways (such as modifying their own game world). The Dame with a lore-based secret isn’t as interesting as the Dame with a lore-based secret that motivates her to help or hinder the PCs based on what they do and say.

Prioritized Setting: Related, setting the PCs most likely will be interested in will receive priority with description and narrative (and maps!).

Impactful Encounters: All encounters are impactful and have weight. There are no fluffy-bunny fro-fro encounters of attrition shoved into the module either as filler to get the PCs experience points so they can challenge the Big Bad the module writers are over-enamored with to the exclusion of the journey to get to the big bad, make some narrative point rather than the PCs making the narrative points, pad the page count or other dubious reasons not having anything to do with adventures DMs want to run. You won’t find encounters in our product designed to test if in a series of combats, the PCs can monitor their resources in a game of attrition. Most encounters will leave players with a sense of accomplishment and sense of heroic wonder that will linger with them until the next play session. Every combat encounter has the capability of dropping heroes to the ground, and if the players don’t combined arms, death or TPK.

Dynamic Plot and Villains based on PC Actions: The PCs do things, and it impacts the world in “real-time.” They do more on their day-to-day interactions than change the life of a stable-boy tipped 100 GP. PCs can influence, and be influenced by, the story’s movers and shakers because they themselves are movers and shakers. Good plot and good villains in a living, breathing game are dynamic based on motives. Rather than dedicating pages for lore for the sake of world-building, let the PCs build their own world by dedicating pages in anticipating common adventure party directions and actions and let them build the world. If the players wanted static quest givers with explanation points over their heads, they would play a MMO designed in the early 2000’s.

Book Mechanics: PDFs even for people who buy the print version. Quality hardcover book printed in color on thick paper you can write on. Module text dedicated to describing dynamic monsters and NPCs that could change tactics based on their overall motives and PC actions. Good stat blocks that are easy to read. Clear maps that can be used in a Virtual Table Top (VTT) program by having the map key in the module text rather than on the map. Proper developmental editing from an experienced RPG-savvy editor and comprehensive, not token, play-testing.

Cohesive Adventuring in an Adventure Path: An adventure path should take a character from Level 1 to Level 20 (or several levels beyond) with a distinctive end. Doing that without putting PCs (or, just admit it, your players) on rails is no easy task, but it is possible with hard work and play testing. The adventure should provide a foundation for the next in a manner that seems organic and plausible. Modules that come next should anticipate several major possibilities of the prior adventure and dedicate text to help the DM transition her players into the next part of the game world without negating their prior hard-won efforts.

This is what Christophe and I are dedicated to. This is hard fantasy, baby. The DMs are putting it all out there. They need as much support as they can get.

Facebook | Kickstarter| Newsletter Signup | YouTube

Hard Fantasy and the DM

Brandon Sanderson writes some excellent fantasy and to paraphrase him, hard fantasy is more about what you can’t do with magic than what you can. A DM that subscribes to the tenants of hard fantasy has a rather large narrative tool in the DM Toolbox. By defining restrictions and limits, a DMs campaign world actually becomes more fantastic, not less!

So what is Hard Fantasy? From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core:

Hard fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that strives to present stories set in (and often centered on) a rational and knowable world. Hard fantasy is similar to hard science fiction, from which it draws its name, in that both aim to build their respective worlds in a rigorous and logical manner.


The hard aspect of hard fantasy can refer to different elements. It can refer to a consistent history and folk lore, as we see from Lord of the Rings, well-defined magic systems as seen in Mistborn or The Name of the Wind, and is sometimes even applied to A Song of Ice and Fire for its political system, though the latter only defines limits of magic the main characters learn.

Here at Griffon Lore Games (which, right now is Anthony and Christophe, ha ha) we are big fans of hard fantasy well beyond a descriptive, logical definition of how magic works. A hard fantasy word to us is indeed:

Motivational: NPCs have motivations both covert and overt.

Political: The fantasy world has movers and shakers, those that fight the status quo and those that try to preserve it.

Historical: The current world can be explained by describing what has come before.

Villainous: The bad guys are not the bad guys in their own story, and on the off-chance they recognize they are the bad guys, they have distinctive motivations for being so.

Magical: The story doesn’t drive the magical system where horrific miracles happen because suddenly it’s the middle of the book and the hero needs a low point. The magical system codifies the story, not the other way around.

Mythical: All people have a creation myth, and the magical and historical items and people within the world have lore that defines them, even if the lore isn’t accurate.

Divine: Especially with RPGs, the divine impacts the people and the people impact the gods. Especially with hard fantasy, what the gods can’t do is just, if not more, interesting and useful to a DM than what a god can do.

Geographical: The fantasy world has distinctive, descriptive geography that shapes all the other hard fantasy attributes.

Now, if you’re into RPGs and the above sounds like a bullet-list for world building—now you get it! It’s not just tough encounters and hard win conditions. It is the whole package. It’s gritty, it’s rich, it make sense and sometimes you can win the battle but lose the war. It’s a fantasy world that breathes. Curse of the Lost Memories is hard fantasy and the campaign world presented in the overall adventure path, Chronicles of the Celestial Chains, is so hard fantasy you can bounce a rock off it. FROM ORBIT.

I’ve got a lot more to say about hard fantasy. We’ve got examples we’re going to talk about later. I’ll even go so far as to truck out RPG products that are hard fantasy and were successful, and RPG products that played fast and loose and were not.

Be sure to bookmark our website or follow us. This is going to get good!

Facebook | Kickstarter| Newsletter Signup | YouTube