Thursday, January 23, 2020

Delve World - A Setting Behind Enemy Lines

A few years back I wrote this as a primer to a game I ran with my friends. It was a semi-original idea that I expanded upon. I once heard a podcast or a YouTube video where someone mentioned a D&D game where the adventurers repelled into the darkness for their adventures. I expanded upon that and created what I titled Delve World. I originally ran this with Dungeon World, thus the summations at the bottom. I stumbled upon the document and had not seen it in a while so I decided to share. I hope you like it, don’t be too harsh it is a few years old. Most likely needs a better name too!

The chains are from ships, these Delvers are calling for an evacuation.


Several generations back the cloud cover of the world started to grow thick, and slowly blocked out the sun. Now the entire world is covered by clouds, and only the mountain tops see the light of the sun. As the Darkness grew, people retreated from the surface to high up in the mountains, above the cloud line. Monsters and other creatures thrived in the Darkness, and the old world was lost. Contact was lost with the demihuman races, most believe them to have been kill off, for they have never received word from their communities. Several city-states formed at the top of these spires, and the world was connected by several floating ships that can travel between the cities. Trade existed for a time, but supplies soon became depleted and this lead to desperate measures.
They are called different things at the various cities, but colloquially they are called “Delvers”. This group of trained individuals take are sent on missions below the cloud line. Air ships take them out over the clouds and then they repel down into the Darkness, in search of anything that might be of use to the community. Maps, artifacts, old equipment, steel and ore, even seeds, these are just some of the needs of the world. Often choosing to leave behind great “wealth” of gold and silver due to the weight, and the less than useful nature of the material.
The Darkness is Magic and Magic is the Darkness. Arcane wizards exist and are great in power, but their power comes from the Darkness. Wizards cannot access their gifts above the cloud line, but need to dip below to access that power. The power is great, but it also corrupts. After every mission, the Delvers as a whole must purge the “Stain” of Darkness that lingers on their bodies, Wizards must purge their minds as well. Anyone who does not purge the Stain from themselves after being below for too long can suffer from “Graft” which is different for each person, but always ends poorly, mostly with people going to live below.

Too much Stain can cause mutations.

Each Delver must go through the sacred Ritual of His Guiding Light. In this ritual, a tiny piece of the Delver’s Soul is removed and made physical.  This forms a small stone of light that the Delvers use below the surface, and is often worn around the neck. This serves as a mechanism to “keep the Darkness at bay,” and without them Graft sets in at an alarming rate. The delvers can brighten or dim the light as they see fit, it can always show true north, and if separated from it, can “feel” their way to its location. Each stone is slightly different in look and possible uses, often a reflection of the personality of the Delver. As Graft sets in, the stone can start to crack or take on unusual characteristics. This often times acts a measure of detection and is handled in specialized ways in different communities.
Religion plays a role in each of the cities of the known world to a greater or lesser extent. There exists two main entities, The High Lord of Light and The Keeper of the Darkness. They have different names and aspects in each locale, but common themes run through the religion. They also share in having lesser servants that act on their behalf in the world at large. The most faithful believe that the High Lord of Light has turned his gaze away from the world due to a lack of pious nature, and the use of dark magic. Since magic stems from the Darkness, practitioners and items of magic, are often looked at with a sense of fear, even dread.
Lastly, travel/trade is an important part of daily life for some of the realm. Most people are born and die without ever setting foot outside the city they are born. The two main ways to leave the city are to join the “Delvers” or to join the Navy. Ships are created by using wood treated with Phlogiston (except in Abbatia, see below), which is a liquid created by distilling magical items/artifacts. This allows the ships to use the clouds as if they were water. All ships use sails, but to have truly fast travel many ships have powered engines that provide propulsion, and a level of protection from attack. At a ships core is an engine that the Navigator connects with and uses his own life, to power and protect the ship. Navigators regardless of city are given great respect, as their lives are greatly shorten by their sacrifice.    

High Hold

Cities of the known world:

1. High Hold – Center of trade and communication for the known cities, the most like the ports of the old world. Run by a Council of Elders, suffers from political factions.
2. Abbatia – Also known as the Monastery, a city of devoted and pious individuals. Main belief is that their faith will drive the clouds apart and illuminate the world. Rejects the use of magic, has highly trained will workers.
3. Stoma – Home of the “The Breach”. Monsters have dug under the city and opened a hole at its center. A constant state of siege warfare exists there, and the city is under martial law.
4. La Ciencia – Home of the Academy, and most hold the belief that the Darkness that covers the land is a natural cycle that humanity will have to outlast. This city is a true democracy, with the city as a whole voting on most measures and positions.
5. Festungburg – This mountain fortress was around before the clouds rose, and is run by King Ruldolf the Provider. Ruldolf has command of the Order of the Pegasus, a group of knights dedicated to protecting his kingdom.
6. “Storm Spire” – There once was a city on top of a tall plateau it is now surrounded by a deadly storm, which has yet to be penetrated. 
7. Tuclesa – The lost city, now known as the Necropolis. Destroyed by and unknown force, monsters lurk in its crack and ruins.


·         Apocalyptic Fantasy

·         Military Behind Enemy Lines

·         Cronenburg Body Horror


·         Portray a desperate world

·         Fill the characters’ lives with hard choices

·         Play to find out what happens


·         Draw maps, leave blanks

·         Address the characters, not the players

·         Embrace the darkly fantastic

·         Make a move that follows

·         Never speak the name of your move

·         Twist every monster in a vile way

·         Ask questions and use the answers

·         Be a fan of the characters

·         Think dangerous

·         Begin and end with the fiction

·         Think off screen, too

·         Nothing is safe, destroy items, kill bystanders

·         Scarcity is a constant threat


·         Use a monster, danger, or location move

·         Reveal an unwelcome truth

·         Show signs of an approaching threat

·         Deal damage

·         Use up their scarce resources

·         Turn their move back on them

·         Separate them

·         Have something cost, fail, or break

·         Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities

·         Show a downside to their class or equipment

·         Offer an opportunity, with or without cost

·         Put someone in a spot

·         Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask


               I never expanded it beyond this, in writing. In the actual game that I ran I had to create many more details due to the nature of Dungeon World. Maybe this will be worth returning to someday, I don't know? Did you like it? Hate it? Tell me below. I really had never created a setting whole cloth before, I was never into world building. I usually take a framework, like Morgansfort, and then make it my own. Change it how I see fit and add the cool things that I like.

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  1. Yes. I loved it. But I think I'd only do it for a short time with experienced gamers. Very grimdark, and it would need some hope of saving the world to make it palatable.

    Still - kudos. Scary and solid, very consistent and easily able to make a hardened gamer quail. And you have airships and soulgems, even as you do this.


  2. Thank you. I agree that it most likely makes a better micro setting than a full setting. Glad you liked it.

  3. It's a great concept. Having characters with limited resources makes for a very intense and dramatic game. I had created a similar setting I called 'Stormworld' that was a dieselpunk type of set up. I didn't have the term 'Delvers' but groups would go below the stormwall into the toxic underdark below. Nice to see great minds thinking alike :D