Over the last three weeks ideas about a setting for a fantasy roleplaying campaign have been popping into my head. I haven’t really wanted to work on this, especially since I don’t intend to run a campaign anytime in the near future (although doing so remains tempting), but I had to write some of them down, and now I feel I should outline the major points of this setting, just to get them out there.
I intend this to be a setting for D&D 3.5, but it doesn’t have to be. It could probably work with any system, and does feature some major tweaks to the typical D&D setup.
One of the reasons I started thinking about a new campaign world was that I realized that if I were going to run a game, I just wouldn’t be able to take any of the stock D&D worlds that I knew of and use those, because my tolerance for settings that seem socially or politically implausible is now too low. None of the D&D worlds that I’ve seen seem politically realistic to me in the least. That’s not necessarily a huge weakness, as that isn’t their purpose; their purpose is to provide fun environments in which to play D&D, and I think that most of the target audience isn’t going to worry much about how realistic the background culture/economy/political structure is.
I also wanted a setting that does provide a lot of the standard fantasy roleplaying tropes, including dungeons and adventure hooks and so on, and I didn’t want “adventurers” to be extremely rare as a profession. Further, I wanted a lot of it to be at least reasonably familiar, i.e. to have a similarity to feudal/Renaissance Europe, including cities, nobles, commerce, currency, and nation-states.
In roughly the order that these things came to me, here are the major points.
It exists, and is intrinsic to the functioning of most of the major societies. I’m not at all convinced that typical feudal societies such as those presented in most D&D worlds would survive very long in a world where magic was present. I’m also rather unconvinced that magic would end up almost as “just another profession/guild”. Mages might not take over the world, but they would be a significant factor in many ways.
The workings of magic in this world are different from the D&D standard. First, mages do have a limited number of spells that they can keep memorized at any given time, and need some prep work to retain the memories, but the limiting factor on what they can cast daily is something akin to “mana points”—if a mage has spells A, B, and C memorized, then any of these can be cast any number of times until the mage runs out of magical energy. Amount of spells, and amount of magical energy, are determined by level in a level-based system like D&D, or by skill level in skill-based systems.
Second, spell research is more important. Once the text of a spell is known, it’s a matter of study and effort for a mage to grasp how to cast it. Before that text is known, however, it’s extremely difficult to figure out how to achieve a given magical effect, and in some cases it may not be possible. It could take a magic-user a year to figure out from scratch how to cast something like Lightning Bolt, whereas if presented with the spell text they could probably learn how to cast it in less than a week (assuming that they have the power to cast it, but that’s a different limiting factor). As a result of this, certain spells are extremely rare, while others (most of the standard combat spells, for example) are fairly easy to get. There is a significant trade in spells, and mages will bargain with each other in an attempt to gain as many spell texts as possible. In addition, new spells (particularly variants of existing ones) are created more often than seems to be suggested by the standard D&D rules—mages would learn new spell creation as a fundamental part of their training, not as something that only higher-level casters could attempt. This also creates an incentive for mages to travel (and to be adventurers): if a mage witnesses a spell being cast, they have a reasonable chance (with several factors influencing that chance) to either figure out the spell text or gain significant insight towards figuring it out.
Third, mages can specialize in one of the schools, with spells in that school costing half as many points to cast, but spells outside that school costing twice as much. Some rebalancing of spell lists may be necessary here, but that’s not really that difficult. Evokers, of course, will be quite popular, and most military casters are evokers. Necromancy and healing spells are unavailable because of the next point.
Fourth, beyond the division of magic into schools, there is the deeper division of magic into spheres of life, death, and arcane. The arcane sphere is where the typical magic-users get their power, and what all of the typical schools use. The life sphere is the energy that life uses, and this is quite different from the arcane. This means that arcane casters cannot cast any spells that depend on this energy. Further, no spells that alter living beings in their physical forms are available, partly because the mages would have to access the life sphere instead of the arcane, but also because the complexity of living beings is such that the typical effects (enlarge, make stronger, make faster, etc.) require far more understanding than arcane mages have time for. (Note that mind-affecting spells, on the other hand, are still available, e.g. Sleep or Charm Person.) Necromancy is a step yet further, as it requires not only an understanding of living beings and the life sphere but access to a sphere that’s deeply alien to living beings. (The life and death spheres are roughly analogous to the positive and negative energy of the typical D&D realm.) What’s more, Necromancy is regarded as taboo, and no necromancers would be allowed to train, or work, anywhere near any populated area. While all of the spheres are connected, and it’s technically possible for any caster to access any of them, it requires a great deal of work and effort to move between them, and mastery of even part of one is generally considered a life’s work.
Fifth, as a result of the fourth point, there are specialists whose work focuses on the life sphere. These are healers, and they are essentially doctors with magical healing powers. Access to the life sphere of magic means that certain medical techniques, such as surgery, arose fairly early in development, as infections could be prevented through use of its power. Surgery, and the equivalent of some modern medical training, is necessary because it is vastly more efficient than relying on magic alone—while it’s possible for some healers to entirely cure a bad sword cut with magic alone, it’s much easier to first stem the bleeding, then clean the wound, then sew it up, and finally use a lot less magic to ensure that it doesn’t get infected and that it heals, perhaps at a highly accelerated rate.
Sixth, again as a result of the fourth point, there is another class of specialist: the agriculturalist. These are basically veterinarians/agricultural scientists, with magical powers. They work with the life sphere, but while their understanding of sentient races is crude and they’re less qualified to work on them, they comprehend the rather different are of how plants function and how the energy of the life sphere can be used to alter them. These agriculturalists are critically important to all of the societies in this world because of the huge advantage they grant in terms of food production—an advantage similar to or greater than that of using modern industrial fertilizer.
The gods of this setting are real, and hugely powerful (duh), but not active in the same way as in traditional D&D settings. First, the number of clerics for any given god is much smaller. Those that are clerics have a true, and direct, relationship with their god, a relationship that makes them unsuitable for play as player characters. They are granted wondrous powers, including spellcasting ability, by their deities, but very few are chosen. The gods have servants in their religions who do not have this connection, or whose connection is mediated by the priesthood, and even those believers without a direct connection can feel the reality of their god’s presence at certain times. This makes religion hugely important in the setting, and a powerful political force. Further, the gods tend not to use their personal power per se, but rather to influence world affairs by manipulating mortals. They do so in most settings anyway, but are slightly subtler here, and less willing to provide raw displays of power.
Just how powerful they are, particularly in comparison to the greatest of mages, remains an open question in the setting, although the fact that the gods seem to have survived a great deal longer than the legendary spellcasters suggests an answer.
Most people are affiliated with some god or other. Some people have multiple deities they call upon. Some fewer are godless, meaning they look to no deities for help, or haven’t been able to choose (and not meaning that they “don’t believe” in the existence of the gods).
The gods are many, as per usual for D&D campaigns. It remains unclear whether or not gods of the same areas with different names are truly different, or whether gods are attached to races or not. In some cases it is assumed, for example the Orcish and Dwarven gods of war are almost definitely not the same entity.
The homeland of the characters in this campaign is assumed to be a relatively young human Empire (or a land on its borders), one that about two hundred years previously managed to come to dominance on its continent. It doesn’t control the entire continent directly, but has no direct enemies or challengers nearby. It is an advanced, centralized, state, featuring:
- A large and relatively efficient bureaucracy.
- A noble class whose power has been reduced such that the Emperor can rule mostly unchallenged, but who remain personally quite powerful, wealthy, and influential.
- A professional military, large and under the command of the Emperor.
- Smaller armies belonging to feudal lords, which must be kept below a certain size and which must respond to the Emperor’s call.
- A central currency.
- A modernized legal system that includes a set of rights granted to all citizens (this arose partly as a way to appease the populace while undermining the personal popularity of some of the feudal lords during an internal power struggle—the rights are granted by the Emperor).
- A cooperative set of mage schools that run what are in essence universities, where non-magical subjects are also taught. These schools help produce battlemages for the military, and are also almost all founded and funded by the Emperor, helping to maintain their loyalty.
- A refined system for producing and controlling agriculturalists. The Emperor licenses these specialists, who are then paid out of the Imperial Treasury—at a profit, for the Empire charges its landowners for their services. Generally they are assigned to areas much like a local doctor or vet, but have considerably more power, and often manage the affairs of noble domains. Their loyalties are a matter for the individual, but by law the Emperor can assign or reassign them at will.
- A merchant/financial class, adept at producing revenue for the Empire, somewhat free of the constraining power of dominant guilds, and more advanced than that of most of the Empire’s neighbors such that the Empire as a whole benefited from the economic exploitation of those neighbors until they caught up. The fact that they have caught up has in turn created pressure for new areas to exploit, and/or for new Imperial conquests.
- No single state religion, with a corresponding interest in ensuring that none of the temples grow too popular or challenge Imperial power.
- Relative racial, religious, and gender tolerance. This stems at least in part from Imperial ambition: the last several Emperors have had their sights set on domination of at least the continent, and think that direct tyranny is less likely to lead to success, while getting maximal use out of the population is more likely to do so. That being said, the majority of the populace toil in serfdom or other menial labor, and the Emperors don’t lose sleep over it. Further, class tolerance is a separate issue, and the nobles consider fawning respect and obeisance from commoners to be their due. Nevertheless, the idea that material wealth is theoretically possible for anyone is emerging as a method of social control, and exploitation of other nations has increased the standard of living across the Empire.
- A powerful intelligence network, with a significant secret police component, that reports directly to the Emperor and which is a cornerstone of maintaining Imperial power internally.
- Friendly, longstanding elven and dwarven allies; non-human races can also take Imperial citizenship, and elven and dwarven societies are both major influences on the Empire’s culture and history, as well as being critical trading partners.
The Empire defeated its last local rival in war two or three decades before the start of the campaign. It was generally recognized that another war would come soon. Candidates included:
- A classic evil-dictatorship state to the south, whose rulers use dark magics to dominate internally and to control trade routes through and around them (this was regarded as the odds-on favorite to be the target of the next war).
- A classic old-and-stagnant-but-large-and-mysterious rival empire further to the south, unreachable save by crossing a large desert waste, with naval access between the two empires prevented by the evil dictatorship.
- The disparate tribes of various races occupying the aforementioned desert waste.
- The fractured orc tribes to the north, occupying a mountain range and beyond that some reasonably productive land as well as a lot of frozen wasteland. (The second-favorite in the betting, and picked by a majority of those who considered themselves in the know.)
- The half-elven seafaring island nation to the east, which had been a relatively friendly trading partner to the Empire for hundreds of years. A major naval power, this state ruled the eastern seas and for millennia prevented all access to an eastern continent that had been abandoned by sentient races following some now-forgotten catastrophe.
- Various of the remaining local allied human kingdoms.
- Any of the dwarven kingdoms. Considered unlikely in part because they’re mostly underground and humans don’t really want to occupy underground areas.
- Any of the elven nations. Some of these, rather than bordering the Empire, were entirely within Imperial territory. These had had friendly relations with the Empire when it was a much smaller kingdom. Certain of the nobles and merchants were known to favor annexing them simply because of the amount of land they took up.
Surprising most observers, the Empire attacked the half-elven island nation to the east, aiming at three objectives: exploitation of the resources of those islands (including fishing grounds); domination of trade routes and commerce in the eastern waters; and access to the legendary eastern continent. The war took about ten years and ended in an Imperial victory, breaking the power of the half-elven navy and occupying their islands. The occupation of those islands is still a military operation, and is still violently resisted. Exploitation of the fishing grounds by Imperial fisherman and merchants is well under way. Exploration and colonization of the eastern continent is also, having begun almost as soon as the war itself.
On the Empire’s home continent, there are six major sentient races, which in order of population on the Imperial home continent are: humans, orcs, goblins, elves/dwarves (they’re approximately tied), and halflings.
The typical fantasy human setup, with plenty of diversity within the race. Partly due to the existence of actual other races, human racial tolerance is quite high in most areas, and skin color is about as important as a feature as eye color is in the modern world. The exceptions to this are primarily class-based, where in some cases castes or “noble bloodlines” are prejudiced regarding who they will admit to their group by marriage (or association).
Human society is varied in setup, but typically is more hierarchical, more numerous, and also more atomized than the other races. Most human societies, and all of them on the Imperial home continent, use agriculture in the typical medieval/Renaissance mode, with some industrial development. The more successful societies are more successful partly because of the use of agriculturalists to improve their resource production. A lower percentage of humans have significant training in non-manual labor than the other races, because humans are more likely to set up long-enduring societies dependent on the exploitation of their own, with pyramid-like resource distribution. (In D&D terms, this means that a lower percentage of humans than the other races are above level zero in anything.) Not all human societies in the setting are like this, but the majority are (this goes for each race—their typical organization doesn’t rule out the existence of vastly different configurations). Once the bottom layer of the pyramid is removed, humans have the highest percentage of magic-users in the population of any major race other than elves.
Humans can interbreed with elves and orcs, as per the traditional D&D setup. Half-elves have some difficulties in bringing together their two racial/cultural backgrounds, but are generally accepted or even envied (by humans for their extended lifespan, by some elves for their accelerated maturation without the drawback of a vastly shorter life). Half-orcs have far more difficulty, and are shunned or even attacked outright in all but the most cosmopolitan places. Prejudice against orcs runs high, and some humans will claim openly that half-orcs “aren’t human”, which statement is never made about half-elves.
Again, the fairly typical fantasy setup. Longer-lived than humans, by far. Internally racially diverse, like humans. None of the elven nations on the Imperial home continent practice agriculture in the human fashion. Instead, they are essentially hunter-gatherers who have increased the viability of their environment through magic, and who as a consequence can increase their population density quite far beyond what would otherwise be their limits. Their social organization is much less hierarchical than that of humans, and indeed would be considered radically egalitarian. Elves tend towards tolerance and cooperation, as well as learning, contemplation, and an appreciation of life. They don’t tolerate exploitation of their own, and find it bizarre generally (obviously, this applies to their culture—individual elves can be as diverse as humans, and this includes their political views). Culturally they are less diverse than human societies, whose conflict and vibrancy they are occasionally drawn to. Elves have little concept of, or time for, the notion of “class” or “nobility” as having any real meaning.
Elves are drawn to almost any craft, art, or expertise. This includes magic use, and they have the highest magic-user percentage of any of the major races. Their culture more or less requires some ability with hunting and tracking, and almost all of them learn the use of the bow at an early age. A higher percentage of elves than any other race have training in some area, and in D&D terms this means that almost none of them are level zero. Their agriculturalists and healers are as admired as their wizards. They are fascinated with strategy and tactics as well, and while typically not warlike tend to embrace the opportunities to indulge those interests. This, combined with their curiosity, makes them very interested and active in spying and intelligence work, such that their ruling councils tend to know more about what’s going on everywhere than any other group.
Elves can interbreed with humans and orcs. This latter fact is less commonly known. Elves will treat half-elves well, and indeed will treat most other races well, but they do regard half-elves as almost brothers. Elves are, however, powerfully prejudiced against orcs. Much more so than humans, or even dwarves, are. While dwarves and orcs are longstanding enemies who have fought for millennia over certain underground domains, and while there are many more dwarf-orc or human-orc wars than elf-orc, elves nevertheless have an implacable and ruthless cold hatred of orcs that appears irrational even to dwarves. This doesn’t manifest in anger or rashness; rather, they would balk at almost nothing in order to never have to deal with orcs in any way ever again. Elven-orcish crossbreeds, therefore, are profoundly unwelcome in elven society, and simply would not be tolerated.
Dwarves are fairly typical fantasy dwarves, although perhaps more of them in this realm are spellcasters. Dwarves appear less racially diverse than humans, elves, or orcs, possibly because non-dwarves can’t see the differences. Dwarven society is typically clan-based, with status based on one’s clan, the number/import of one’s famous ancestors, and on one’s own accomplishments. This last is contradictory, as dwarves are quite conformist in many ways, yet the great deeds which are required to overcome poor ancestry/clan connections are nonconformist generally. Dwarves are attracted to mining as a kind of racial obsession, and almost all of them enjoy toil in service of mining or building. They have a slightly lower percentage of magic-users than humans, but a higher percentage of magical artificers. Their clans are organized hierarchically according to status, and the head of the highest-ranking clan is the king of that dwarven nation. They either have highly revered and relatively numerous agriculturalists, because these are necessary to manage decent food production from primarily underground or mountain holdings, or they have almost none because they import all their food and none of them really want anything to do with dealing with plants.
Dwarves like to build things, particularly things that are in some way difficult to build. This can result in stunning architectural achievements, and on the Imperial home continent it’s generally acknowledged that no structures come close to matching the major dwarven underground halls. They also like to build devices of various kinds, and have an obsessive attitude about detail and quality.
Because some dwarves fail to resist the message of conformity, are from low-status backgrounds, and enjoy mining-/building-related menial labor, a higher percentage of them are “unskilled” (i.e. level zero) than elves.
Dwarves cannot interbreed with non-dwarves. Dwarves trade heavily with humans and (in the case of at least one nation) halflings, and to a lesser extent with elves. They are friendly to elves, and cooperate with them, but the two races are generally slightly awkward around each other. Dwarves and orcs are long-term enemies who have fought many times over the same places. Dwarven lifespans are about 150% of human lifespans.
Relatively typical fantasy orcs, except that they’re not inherently evil. If elven society takes the best aspects of hunter-gatherer or tribal organization and brings them forward into a much larger community structure, orcish society tends in the other direction. Orcs tend to be selfish, concerned with local hierarchy and petty status, wary of new things, hidebound, and eager to settle any differences with violent displays of dominance. Orcish loyalty tends to be to immediate family, then to a clan of about thirty to forty, and then more tenuously to tribe. Anything beyond two hundred tends not to command their loyalty. Orcs are also moved by personal attachment to leader figures, and can be highly hierarchical and authoritarian under certain circumstances. If orcish leaders rise beyond a critical point, they begin to attract cults of personality that can unite extremely large numbers. Physically orcs are hardier than humans or elves, and able to survive in more extreme climates. They can also digest a wider range of substances. They are not averse to living underground; about half of them prefer it to living overground. They are comfortable around mountains in a similar fashion to dwarves. (As usual, all these characteristics are tendencies, and individual orcs can be totally different.)
Some orcish tribes practice centralized agriculture, and as a result have villages and towns. The paucity of good land in the part of the continent that they have been forced into makes this more difficult for them. Other tribes are nomadic, and some of both raid dwarven and human lands for food and wealth. All orcish tribes have spellcasters, including agriculturalists, who are necessary for their survival. They have a lower percentage of spellcasters than the other races (except for goblins), partly as a result of the harsh circumstances in which they live. Their magical capabilities are about the same as those of humans, as there have been times (long past) when their shamanic circles defeated human mage groups.
Orcs on the Imperial home continent have been pushed further and further north (or south, into the desert waste south of the Empire), and their societies have been in decline as a result over the last several hundred years. About five hundred years before the start of the campaign, the most successful orcish nation in history defeated a number of human and dwarven states in a series of wars and was seriously threatening the state that would later become the Empire, before the orcs were defeated by an alliance of humans, elves, and dwarves (and, in some tellings, halflings). There was a brief resurgence about two hundred years ago, whey they were again defeated by what would become the Empire (which, through a variety of betrayals and opportunistic maneuvers, managed to have the orcish advances hurt other kingdoms and pave the way for Imperial dominance). Since that time, the orcs have been harried, stuck on almost uninhabitable land, and wracked by internal conflicts.
There is trade between humans and orcs, although the humans tend to keep relatively quiet about it, and often try to pass off what they get from the orcs (primarily furs, certain kinds of meat, some gems and precious metals from orcish mines) as originating with nomadic human tribes in the north, or (for the gems and metals) with dwarves. Despite this, the trade is significant, and important to both groups. There is a lot of mutual distrust, but enough profit to keep it going.
Orcs can interbreed with humans and elves. Orcs are generally more tolerant of the results of those unions than either humans or elves, although the life of a half-orc among the tribes would certainly not be easy. But, given enough success in combat and dominance demonstration, half-orcs can rise to prominent positions, and even rule tribes. Orcs distrust humans and hate dwarves. They dislike elves, although this dislike is primarily a reaction to how elves hold them beneath contempt. Orcs also fear elves more than they fear humans or dwarves, and consider the elves to be truly responsible for the destruction of their largest civilization five hundred years before. Orcish lifespans are about 80% of human lifespans.
Almost right out of Tolkien, except that they have mages of their own, and are more martially competent. They practice agriculture, using agriculturalists like the other races. They are more community-oriented than humans, and their generosity of spirit prevents major resource imbalances. They do, however, have significant class stratification. They tend towards isolationism, and will try to copy and create internally anything they think they need from the outside rather than leaving their homelands—for example, they have created their own schools of wizardry, healing, and agriculture, and do not send students elsewhere, or accept students from elsewhere. Most other races act similarly, but with more exceptions and for political reasons, not because they don’t want things from other lands.
There is only one halfling nation on the Imperial home continent, on a southwestern peninsula. Between it and the rest of the continent is a major mountain range that is home to a very significant dwarven kingdom. These dwarves have been allied with the halflings for as long as either can remember. The dwarves long ago outsourced all of their agricultural production to the halflings, who are much more interested in growing things than dwarves. Indeed the halflings are renowned for various delicacies, including many different kinds of fruit, beer, wine, and pipe-weed. The halflings have a higher percentage of agriculturalists than any other race except the elves. Healers are less common, and mages even less so. Halflings do like to trade, despite their inward-looking tendencies, and they have a reputation for being somewhat trickster-like in their dealings. Official, state-sanctioned, halfling institutions are known to be reputable and trustworthy, but individual halflings have different reputations. Tales abound of smooth-talking, innocent-looking halflings conning victims out of large sums—sometimes even managing to do so legally. They tend to treat the dwarves fairly, however, and in fact dwarves tend to either not believe tales of halfling fraud or to cast it as both harmless and the fault of the victim.
Those halflings that lack the isolationist trait tend to be quite curious and to travel very widely. Many are merchants, and can make significant profits bringing halfling goods far afield and returning with exotic trinkets to sell.
Halflings cannot interbreed with non-halflings. Halflings and dwarves are very friendly. Halflings regard elves with some awe, and are friendly to them. Halflings and humans are friendly, but halflings aren’t awed by humans at all, while humans tend to think that halflings are cute and innocent—which the halflings will either resent, or exploit shamelessly, or both.
Straight out of the SRD. Goblins and orcs are allies, but the orcs bully the goblins and occasionally armed conflict breaks out between them. Goblins have been pushed even further away from good land than the orcs, and as such have to struggle even harder to survive. Like orcs, they have no objection to living underground, and some of their remaining strongholds are places where dwarves don’t go and orcs can’t comfortably fit. Generally their society is a crude imitation of orcish society. They do have magic-users, including healers and agriculturalists, although these will not rise in power to the level of casters of the other races. They are hardy like the orcs, which is why they yet survive.
Goblins cannot interbreed with non-goblins. (In this world, orcs and goblins are not related.) Goblins distrust most orcs, but decent relationships can exist on a personal level, or even on a tribal level, as some orish and goblin tribes have been allies for many generations. Goblins don’t like any of the other major races, but would be most tolerant towards humans.
The changes to the magic system, and to the relations between deities and their priests, have significant impacts on the D&D classes. Magic-users are different, and the distinction between sorcerers and wizards is moot.
Clerics are no longer playable as such. Neither are druids. Their nearest equivalents are healers and agriculturalists. The latter seem profoundly unsuitable as an adventuring class and can be dismissed. Healers, on the other hand, seem interesting from a roleplaying point of view. Taking on the role of a doctor in a fantasy setting seems reasonable. There are significant combat-related balance issues, however. This is one of the areas I haven’t worked out entirely, but the pure healer role in combat is pretty boring.
Rangers and paladins would have to have significant changes, as their related classes (druids and clerics) have been eliminated. I’m pretty sure I could find ways to replace their lost spellcasting abilities, and paladins could be replaced by a kind of crusader class, one whose constraints could be offset by divine favor (but without the direct relationship to their god that would make them unplayable).
Bards disappear, although if someone really wanted they could probably find a way to make them functional without direct magic.
Wizards, I think, become a little more interesting and customizable, as I think that the mana-point system and the possibilities of specialization and spell creation within the system allow for a lot more individuality.
The other classes still work, and there might be room for some new classes that are subsets of fighter or rogue.
The Eastern Continent
The point of this entire setup, really: a continent that’s being colonized by a recognizably-structured political entity, but which has been forbidden to all of the major races (as far as anyone knows) for at least a thousand years, for reasons that nobody knows (or remembers). A vast amount of land that’s unexplored, and empty of sentient inhabitants—at least in large numbers. In fact, all kinds of individual outcasts and exiles could have ended up there over time. This setting supports traditional dungeon crawls, wilderness adventures, exploration into all kinds of unknown territories, the unearthing of long-forgotten secrets, opportunities for mercantile profits (at great risk, of course), forced or voluntary aiding of the colonizing empire in its efforts, forced or voluntary opposition of the colonizing empire in its efforts, espionage and intrigue involving factions on the home continent or the recently-conquered half-elven island nation, competition with other adventurer types, involvement in supporting or resisting oppression of the colonists, ditto of the colonized if there turn out to be pockets of sentient settlement, maneuvering in relation to other groups attempting to get in on the colonization, and so on.
I see it working as a cross between traditional D&D and a kind of pseudo-Western, frontier-style setting, with perhaps a dash of the postapocalyptic thrown in—because whatever caused the abandonment of the continent was certainly apocalyptic in nature.
This turned out to be a much longer “quick sketch” than I had intended, but even so the above notes count merely as an outline for a possible setting. I think that’s gotten it out of my system at least for a while. (But eventually, I really should run a game based there.)