Campaign Design: Seven Realms Ecology 1
Campaign Design Log:
Seven Realms Ecology 1
One of the main impulses behind designing my own campaign world is always a bit of reaction and a bit of inspiration. In this case, the reaction is about verisimilitude or believability. Let’s talk about dragons for a bit. Dragons are iconic beasts in fantasy gaming. With very few exceptions they seem almost required in this hobby when talking about high or epic fantasy. I’m talking of course about Dragon A’la Tolkien, not Dragon as in Fafnir, or the Beast and St. George. We speak of the titanic, apex predator with the cunning mind and horrific power which terrorizes countries, steals treasures, and slaughters champion after champion.
Harkening to the effects of Dragons on local economies and ecologies once roused by using the example of Smaug I wondered why so many fantasy games litter their maps with dragon lairs, yet never get called on the obvious question of how they still work as worlds.
We don’t disbelieve the existence of human dominated landscapes in worlds such as Krynn or Toril, yet how could such countries flourish with so many dragons around? These are multi-ton beasts with fast enough metabolisms to react to incursions in the blink of an eye which means they can’t truly hibernate for decades or longer, and they need to eat at least their own body weight in meat every so often to survive. It becomes even more unbelievable when you remember that every single one of these dragons is intelligent enough to speak. Why is it that the people of the Forgotten Realms aren’t enslaved by dragons and toiling endless hours to raise grain to feed animals which they offer up once a quarter to their overseer’s feast?
The Seven Realms is grounded in logic even where there exists magic, so I couldn’t follow this lead. I also couldn’t follow the lead of Tolkien exactly either. First, there is only one intelligent strain of draconic reptiles in my world and they exist only in the Opal Realm, an outer plane. They are also not numerous. Each True Dragon has a name because with so few numbers they can afford to be named.
So what do the mortals of the Seven Realms call the more common dragon? They are known as drakes and these creatures, while cunning, are not intelligent. They are also not numerous and prefer to lair in isolated environments. Their natural inclination to eat whatever they want of whatever moves and their need to consume tons of meat clash with the numerous prey with the long rocky spikes or the ability to also breathe fire or such.
I also made them smaller, but drakes are still very large creatures. However, there are no true dragonriders among the peoples of Arn, the known world of the Mortal Realm. It isn’t because draconic creatures can’t be tamed, because dragonets, miniature dragons about the size of large horses, do exist and have been domesticated as mounts.
Instead efforts required to locate dragon eggs before they hatch rarely go well, given the existence of dragon mothers, and dragons don’t respond well to captivity. That and the absurdity of a creature that large taking orders from a rider who smells delicious even if familiar. Imagine a lion bearing a piglet around on its back and you’ll get close to the levels of absurdity we’re talking about.
So common drakes, which are actually fairly uncommon, loner, nesting creatures which can devastate the ecology of any place they lair, are big but not titanic, cunning but not intelligent, and powerful but not unbeatable. If you are wondering if I take my own advice and mold the landscape around dragons, I do. The ruler of the oldest kingdom in the Opal Realm is a True Dragon, and only his largesse allows the rival nation of Phaedirion to flourish.