For two hundred years, the city-state of Idalium has occupied the shores of the Great Sea, growing into a bustling, thriving seaport. But Idalium was built directly on the ruins of another, far more ancient, Idalium. When the former civilization collapsed in the wake of a volcanic eruption, power was seized by a wave of invaders organized by a recently developed monotheistic religion. These invaders were so repelled by the inscrutable pagan ways of the Idalian culture and such was their zealotry to replace it that they literally planked over the old city and built a new Idalium on top of the old.
Now, over two hundred years later, the citizens of Idalium go about their daily business sparing little thought to the ruins below their feet. They know it exists, of course, but they view it as a dark, dangerous hole underneath the ground. They would no sooner go down there than most of us would enter a manhole into a sewer tunnel or underground crypt. Only the most foolhardy or desperate would intentionally mount an exploration of the forgotten ruins...
My D&D campaign revolves around the busy city-state of Idalium and the sprawling dungeon located immediately (and improbably) below its streets. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, one of the chief goals of this campaign is to support casual episodic play, where occasional players can drop in or out with no disruption to an ongoing plot (I'll write much more about this goal later). So every game session has to start and end in town, and the dungeon must therefore be very close at hand. And also, I like the "magical realism" aspect of having a surreal underworld within arm's reach of the mundane, quotidian world. It doesn't have to hold up to extended intellectual scrutiny. "Fridge logic" is good enough.
Idalium is inspired by sword-and-sorcery cities like Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, a mythic version of the classical Mediterranean city-states like Byzantium, Athens, Alexandria, etc. I wanted to get away from the traditional pseudo-Medieval genre trappings of D&D, and into something a bit more "Jason and the Argonauts" (or at least "The Life of Brian"). This is a world of isolated city-states dotted around a fantasy analog of the Mediterranean Sea, separated by dangerous wilderness, not a land of feudal castles and rolling meadows full of jousting knights in shining plate armor. Although, this being D&D, I have no problem with incorporating anachronistic technology and social structures ranging the full course of human history. It may have the feel of an Iron Age city-state, but there are also glass windows, Gothic cathedrals, widespread literacy, etc. That, to me, has always been part of the freewheeling charm of old school D&D - to steal liberally from whatever is exciting and atmospheric from any age of history, literature, or film.
Next I'll post a little about the adventurers home base, the tavern which gives this blog its title, and then write up a report of our inaugural game session.