As some of you may have seen on my Instagram , my wife and I recently took a 10-day trip to England and Scotland. We both love traveling and history, and take a trip each year to a different country where we spend a lot of our time exploring historical sites and museums. We spend plenty of time doing more modern things (theater, nightlife, restaurants, etc), but for me, the highlights have always been things to do with the history of the place we are visiting. Part of the reason for that is my love of history, but part of it is because of the inspiration that history and historical places give me. So today I’m going to highlight a few things we did or places we visited that really got my creative juices flowing, and maybe they will kickstart some inspiration of your own. As a heads up, most of this will concern Dungeons and Dragons, since the inspiration was mainly of a fantastical nature.
The first place we visited on our trip was London. A trip to London isn’t complete without a visit to the fantastic British Museum. The Museum is enormous, with beautiful architecture, and has been in operation since 1753, making it older than the United States, which blew my mind. We spent a full afternoon at the museum, from lunch until close, and we saw maybe 1/4 or at most 1/3 of everything in the place; even then, we were speeding up at the end to try to cover more ground, and did not peruse with the detail we had in the first exhibits. We moved through the Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese exhibits, and they all had interesting artifacts and stories to tell. From the moment we walked into the Egyptian section, my brain got rolling. In my homebrew Dungeons and Dragons world, I have a Roman Empire equivalent, the Vaaryan Empire, an empire 1000 years in the past which was able to conquer vast swathes of territory based on their organizational and engineering acumen (as well as advanced magic far beyond anyone else, since this is D&D), but eventually waned and collapsed due to overextension, aggressive younger nations, corruption, and internal strife. Wandering through the beautiful sarcophagi and incredibly well-preserved tomb doorways of the ancient Egyptians, however, I was struck with an idea for an Egyptian analog in the vast desert area of my campaign world which would rise and fall in a similar timeline to the Vaaryans.
It worked out well since I had left the desert area untouched by the Vaaryan Empire during the timeline of their expansion, due to the difficulty of desert living for a more temperate people. As I continued to look through the exhibits, I started to formulate basic ideas for what these people were like. What type of god did they worship? In the desert, water would be the most important thing, but would be rare in the form of rainfall and only abundant at the single powerful river and large oasis lake. I decided they would likely worship a god of water as life-giver and supreme power, but one who was fickle and sometimes capricious, as well as dangerous in the form of thunderstorms. These people would likely be overt in their celebration of this god in an effort to appease him constantly and thus both gain his favor and avoid his wrath. For a people like that, building massive structures like pyramids in the desert made little sense, but along the river, or at an oasis, would grant them a shorter path to the afterlife with their supreme god, and so I decided on any sort of monolithic tombs being built right along the river or around oases.
The rich mythology of the Egyptians, as well as their propensity for laying curses and protective spells around areas of importance and tombs formed an idea of my nascent desert civilization in my head regarding their magic use: it would be of a darker nature than the Vaaryans, who were primarily involved in divination, transmutation, and abjuration magic. I believe my desert-dwellers would seek to use necromancy to protect their tombs as well as aid in their search for immortality, conjuration to likewise aid in protection and deal with issues like droughts, and, of course, enchantment to ward sacred areas and tombs. Enchantment would be their greatest school of magic and the height of their power. The exploration in my mind of the types of schools of magic that were prominent among these people made me realize that I have done this with several civilizations in my world, making magic as much a cultural aspect as music, food, or history. The Vaaryans were masters of divination magic, seeking always to learn about and control the future, the Teikokans are powerful elementalists, seeking to connect to the power of the world around them, the Rodamans have explored the depths and reaches of necromancy on their quest for power, and the casters of the Empire of Maga Khan have done the same with conjuration. Of course, spellcasters of all schools of magic exist in these places, but I realized I have made different nations centers of knowledge and learning for particular types of magic, where people more often flock to a certain type. It was a cool discovery that I made and explored, all starting with the Egyptian area of the British museum.
Another day in London, we visited Buckingham Palace, where we watched the Changing of the Guard between the Royal Ghurka Rifles and the Welsh Guards, followed by a visit to the Guards Museum. The pageantry of the ceremony, as well as the rich heritage of the Guards units, made me think about the future of my homebrew campaign setting. Providing nothing world-ending occurs in the current campaign, and the main player nation survives into the future, I have often thought about how the world would change with technological advances like gunpowder and basic industry. I’ve thought about campaigns set in a late Renaissance and early Enlightenment-inspired times in the world, and both the ceremony and the museum got me thinking about how the main player nation, Weissland, would evolve and what kind of Guard units it would have in its army. It was relatively minor things like organization and uniforms, but it was a fun series of thoughts to explore, as I enjoy worldbuilding and little details like uniforms and military organization are things that I think help build out a nation as believable.
A third place which we visited that was full of inspiration was Stirling Castle. Perched on a rocky cliff overlooking what was, for centuries, the only fordable point of the River Forth, Stirling Castle guarded the entrance to much of Scotland, including the Highlands. It was easily-defensible due to its location on the volcanic cliffs, and was continually attacked by both English and Scots, changing hands in the many wars they fought in an effort to control the vital crossing point. The castle, its placement, and history reminded me of the Twins from Game of Thrones. While the castle was not literally a fortified bridge like in Game of Thrones, it was an incredibly tough fortress guarding the only crossing point between north and south for armies going in either direction. In my own homebrew setting, in the main player nation of Weissland, I already have two castles, Ledek’s Span and Urun Aquea, which serve similar purposes. Urun Aquea guards the only crossing of the major river running east to west out of a mountain range to the east coast of Weissland, while Ledek’s Span guards the only crossing of the Ledek River which runs east-west from another mountain range to Lake Ledek, as well as a crossroads of three major routes, all converging at the crossing site. I placed these fortresses on the map during world-building specifically because it makes military sense to guard such important sites, especially as both places are in the southern area of Weissland and Weissland’s major threat comes from Rodamah to the south.
Visiting Stirling Castle, however, helped me better visualize these places in my head in terms of where they would be sited and how they would be constructed. While Ledek’s Span is in lowlands and would be constructed more like the twins, Urun Aquea is in coastal hill country, and now I view it being up on a rocky crag akin to Stirling Rock. The exhibits within the castle talking about the many sieges and battles fought there also gave me a better understanding of how difficult it would be to even attack a place like Stirling Rock. The attackers tried many different tactics, often simultaneously, to crack open the castle, some more successful than others. It reinforced that any war that occurred in southern Weissland, if the Rodamans cracked through the Great Wall, would see massive battles at both Urun Aquea and Ledek’s Span as the enemy tried to fight their way north. They could be the site of massive, cinematic set-piece battles in the campaign, where the players could participate in something truly epic, and perhaps even over the course of multiple adventures as they worked to protect the castle in a protracted siege.
Our trip to Britain provided me with many moments of inspiration for my Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting, from adventure ideas to entire civilizations, more than I could include in a blog post. I hope sharing some of my inspiration may inspire some of you as well to think about new ideas or refine things in your own campaigns.
As always, you can follow me at https://www.instagram.com/theramblinggm/ . Happy gaming!