Welcome to the first installment of a series of articles for a fan-made D&D 4E setting, that takes more inspiration by the work of Fritz Lang and George Orwell than Tolkien and Howard.
If you thought Eberron was “too steampunk” for your D&D tastes, you better look away. This is about to become “Dungeons & Dystopia”.
((all images in this post are movie stills from the 1926 silent film “Metropolis” which inspires a lot of the aesthetic I’m going for.))
Welcome to Neutropolis,
Last standing bastion of our world. In the bleak fires of judgment, during the Chaos Wars where unfettered magic scorched our skies and blackened our world, the Goddess Mechanical gave us shelter. She taught those who survived the purge fires how to be inspired, how to create from destruction, and restored order. She returned to us the gift of civility, of routine.
But, for generations she has fell silent to our prayers. She has left our great city of clockwork for reasons unknown to the Elders. Perhaps she had faith that the civilized races would continue to function without her, like a device left on its own to function. All I know is, the machine is starting to grind. The gears are wearing down, and those left in charge of the machine aren’t servicing it. Instead, they pull the lever and demand more production, more work, and they do not understand the load they are putting on the gears that make it tick.
It’s time to break it down. It’s time to tear it apart and rebuild again. Before the whole thing is ruined, before it destructs. Before it’s unable to ever be salvaged again.
Welcome to a dark fantasy of oppression, of paranoia and of revolution. Let’s take that “Points of Light” mentality that 4th Edition pushes, and turn it on its head. This isn’t about restoring order to a world in chaos; this is about returning Freedom to a world in lock down.
Neutropolis is a campaign idea for 4th Edition D&D (but can be easily worked into any other fantasy) where the Heroes are champions of a revolt against the corrupt establishment. The setting takes place in a giant metropolis of clockwork and routine. Long ago, Erathis took the survivors of a horrifying apocalypse, and in her own way returned order to a chaotic land.
However, when the machines of the city were set in motion, and all appeared well, she moved on. Legend has it that things had been working so well, nobody even noticed her absence. But when someone did…it damn near tore down the entire city. The elders and her most devout priests came to the conclusion that this was their final test for their Goddess….to maintain structure, order and progress in absence. This is when troubles really began.
Over the next few generations, The Theocracy of Neutropolis began enforcing strong proclamations and edicts from the Church that condemned certain behaviors and practices as “chaotic”, and possibly posed a threat to Progress and the Greater Good. This included everything from the practice of “sorcery and infernal magicks” to even certain types of artistic expression, written word and entertainment. The Church had even began training its own enforcers of its dogma; to call them Inquisitors is to put it lightly. “Thought Police” is a better comparison.
The experiment has failed. Neutropolis, striving to preserve its neutral routine and civility, has become an authoritarian state; a blasphemy to its original design. It has become a prison state where the clergy rule with an iron fist, and the masses suffer in labor for their lavish comforts. The “progress” they push for is only for excess, expansion and exploitation. Inspiration and invention have fallen to the wayside.
(Points of) Light the Fuses
Players in this setting take on the roles of heroes who have had enough, and can plainly see that the best interest of the establishment is to keep the people down. Enough is enough; they recognize the hypocrisy of the Theocratic order and can see the corruption bright as day.
In shadowy gatherings, in the back of alleys of the neighborhoods where the workers retire for their shifts, and in the walled-off slums on the outskirts of the city, you find them. Men and women of many different races and backgrounds, determined to offset the authority and inspire others to revolution. Workers who long for better lives, be it for themselves or their families. Artists who yearn for more color and passion in their lives. Wizards, Sorcerers and Warlocks who have gone underground with their forbidden knowledge. You’ll even find holy men who have been forced to hide their faith….even those who are still faithful to Erathis, but are disgusted of what the clergy has become.
There are even those blessed by Erathis, and hunted down by the authority because they are seen as a threat to the order of things. “The Forged” as they are called, are living constructs who have received the blessing of sentience and free will. In olden days, they were considered the chosen children of the mechanical goddess. To the Church, they are considered “tainted” machines and puppets of Chaos. Some only experience life briefly, before they are hunted out and destroyed by clergy members. Others manage to hide amongst the other constructs, until they manage to escape and flee into hiding. Even then, life is dangerous for them.
These are the heroes, the freedom fighters of Neutropolis. Their story isn’t about grand adventure in far away lands in search of ancient treasures….theirs is the fight on the home front, to stand up against tyranny in a world where they are prisoners under constant watch from the oppressors. The points of light here aren’t beacons in the darkness, they are the sparks that ignite the revolution.
Basic Campaign Overview:
- 4th Edition rules, just about anything is open. Yes, even Primal classes have an important role in this setting. Standard PHB 1 races are the norm, others are considered outsiders and generally are given rougher treatment than the normal citizen.
- The setting is pretty much high fantasy steam punk. 4th Edition caters to this pretty well, might as well embrace it and crank it to 11.
“The Forged” statistically are the same as Warforged, though their origins are different. They are the mechanical, clockwork golems and constructs of the society that have suddenly developed consciousness and life. They really are the blessed in Erathis’ eyes, but the Church sees them differently.
All arcane classes are pretty much pushed underground and considered agents of chaos and entropy by the establishment. The exception at times is The Church does employ its own cabal of Wizards; however, they are essentially lapdogs to the priesthood, and often Avengers specialize in hunting down rogue scholars who smuggle arcane lore.
Instead of worrying about 4E’s encounter design, I’m arbitrarily ruling every 7-9 encounters will result in a level. By encounter, I mean an entire scene of conflict (whether combat is involved or not) and everything it contains therein. It could be a single large fight; it could be the entire time it takes to break into a building, rummage through papers quietly without attracting local authorities, cracking a lock on a safe and then getting the hell out (whether that includes fighting or not.)
Check back every Sunday to learn more about the setting of Neutropolis, and information regarding The Revolution.