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Castles & Crowns: Design Diary

Castles & Crowns: Design Diary

Last year, I had a great time writing for Campaign Builder: Cities and Towns, so I was excited to be offered the chance to work on the sequel. As someone who loves world building and setting design, I was immediately drawn to the Kingdoms and Rulers chapter. As well as providing advice on how to build kingdoms and design their rulers, I got the opportunity to create a series of NPC rulers and to design brand new sample human, dwarf, elf, and fey kingdoms.

Getting Started

Before I started writing the opening sections on Building Your Kingdom and Designing Your Ruler, I reread various DMGs from past editions and other books in my library to see how other designers had handled these subjects. I wanted to offer practical, step-by-step guidance without overcomplicating things or drifting into general world building advice. I went for a conversational style and tried to steer away from stating the obvious. Hopefully, I succeeded!

The first two sections grew into something three times bigger than originally planned! We needed the space though, to make them as useful and informative as possible. Once I started writing, it became clear that the kingdom-building tables slated for the appendix would sit better alongside advice on topics such as kingdom size, climate and terrain, and population.

So tables moved into this chapter. I researched medieval population densities and how best to calculate the number of square miles in an irregularly shaped kingdom (quick answer: draw your map on hex paper!) Guidance on determining a kingdom’s government, religion, magic, historical events, and the “state of the nation” also moved to the beginning of the chapter, leaving the sections on each kingdom type to concentrate on what is special about that sort of realm. I included tables of personal characteristics specifically focused on rulers which came in handy later when I created sample rulers for each kingdom type.

Kingdoms and Rulers

Next, I got into writing about human, dwarf, elf, and fey kingdoms and rulers. I added tables for landmarks in human cities, dwarf holds, and elven cities, guidance on suitable gods, and how magic is viewed, and fun quirk tables for each type of ruler. Each kingdom type has two or three sample rulers like the human Basileus of the Endless Steppes, the dwarven Blessed Mother of the Silver Tankards, the elven Warden of the Copperbeech Forest, and the capricious fey Birch Queen, all ready to add into your campaign. Tables of adventure ideas round out the opening section for each kingdom type.

There’s a sample kingdom for each type, complete with a beautiful full color map, descriptions of the major settlements and sites, and an NPC ruler with a brand new stat block. I had a lot of fun with these, building in conflicts between the ruler, their rivals at court, and other important factions, and adding plenty of adventure hooks to the cities and locations.

I also devised some neat connections between the different sample rulers and kingdoms elsewhere in the book, as well as adventure ideas and a roster of monsters likely to be encountered in the kingdom. Some kingdoms feature the new races introduced in Tome of Heroes. For example, there are spindrift dwarves and catfolk in the Alchorades, and frostfell elves in Caelevar.

Human Kingdom

The human kingdom is the Island Realm of the Alchorades, a warm Mediterranean-style archipelago with ancient Minoan and Venetian influences, ruled by the Queen of the Islands, a powerful priestess of the mysterious Earth Serpent. When drawing the sketch map, I looked at Greek island chains like the Cyclades for inspiration, adding fantastic locations such as the Sunken Colossus, the Wandering Rocks, and the Jaws of the Underworld to the setting.

Dwarven Kingdom

For the dwarven kingdom, I created Stoneheart Canyon, a giant rift in the earth, with dwarf holds built along the rim but also extending underground to miles of halls, tunnels, and mines, some lost to the duergar or haunted by dwarven ghosts. The realm’s High King has a mighty club-like crystal arm he can use to bludgeon his enemies into submission.

Elven Kingdom

The elven kingdom of Caelevar is a forest realm, only part-controlled by its queen and those elves that remained behind when their ancestors withdrew to the Summer Lands. Several once-splendid elven cities in the forest lie in ruins and are home to goblins, orcs, or dark elves. Known as the Queen of Feathers, Caelevar’s ruler wields druidic powers and has an affinity for forest jays and other birds, inherited from her grandmother, the Queen of Birds (an animal lord who appears in the Creature Codex).

Fey Kingdom

 To make sure that the fey kingdom was distinct from Caelevar, I went with a wintry realm named Everfrost. Its ruler is the Holly King, a cruel fey lord inspired by a real-world mythical figure. The kingdom grows in the winter and shrinks in the summer as the Holly King battles his rival, the Oak King. The Everfrost section includes detail on several important fey mentioned briefly in previous Kobold Press books, including the Birch Queen, the Oak King, and the Rowan King. The Holly King has a full legendary stat block with lair actions and regional effects, making him a true fey lord.

Finishing Up

During work on the four kingdoms, I received the finished maps, which are gorgeous! It never ceases to amaze me how the Kobold Press cartographers and artists turn my sketches and briefs into something so cool. 

As I finish up this project, it’s been great to see Campaign Builder: Cities and Towns getting a very positive reception with fans asking if Kobold Press is going to produce a follow up. If you enjoyed the previous book, I think you will really like Castles and Crowns, and find it a very useful resource for your campaign. I’ve had a lot of fun working on it!

Richard Green
London, April 2023

Campaign Builder: Castles & Crowns is now on Kickstarter! Back it today!

about Richard Green

Richard Green has been in love with roleplaying games since the ’80s. He is the author of Parsantium: City at the Crossroads, a city sourcebook for use with all editions of D&D and Pathfinder. His freelance design credits include the Midgard Worldbook, Empire of the Ghouls, and Southlands Worldbook. Visit his website: richardgreengames.com.

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