About Years of Gold (Years of Gold)
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The feel of the setting
Years of Gold seeks to be an action-packed setting for 3.5e without resorting to the Monty Haul -type mechanics that are fairly intrinsic to the system. It also uses a limited cosmology, with only a single "Material Plane" and a few sub-levels to it (the underworld, the glades of Mieli etc.) instead of the complicated, high fantasy planescape of standard D&D. Years of Gold introduces a fresh, awesome world to people bored with the same old, same old.
The down-to-earth, limited-magic setting that makes up the continent of Pansaer lends itself perfectly to a more sinister, unpleasant world than the mostly colorful realms of other settings. Dungeon Masters should take the opportunity to use the harsh realism associated with the world: the greatest danger facing a farming community is not only the local cult, but also the fact that if the cult burns their fields, their children will starve to death during winter. The nobleman who behaves erratically and hurts those close to him isn't possessed, but ravaged by a sexually transmitted disease that slowly devours his mind.
The grim setting doesn't mean that characters should only be able to watch from the sidelines at an unpleasant world going about its business - absolutely not! The whole point of the grim setting is to allow the players to interact, to make it better: the adventurers can drive away the cult and donate to the village to increase their chances of survival; the cleric of the party can device a way to cure the nobleman's disease, to the tearful thanks of his family. Allowing the players to make the world a better place gives them an amazing feeling of fulfillment.
On the other hand, those who like a pause from the goody-two-shoes attitude they have to take in every fantasy setting can happily participate in the horrors of the world, taking delight in roleplaying the ills and evils of the setting. Kill the cult, but then burn the fields yourself; infect the nobleman with even more diseases, so that he loses control completely, and watch the chaos unfold. In Years of Gold the world is your oyster, and the only limit is your dark imagination.
While any kind of adventure, campaign or pastime a Dungeon Master can device can be situated on Pansaer, the setting lends itself to the sort of mundane, more realistic scenarios outline above and below. The optimal character level for the setting is from level one to roughly level fifteen, give or take a few levels. Epic levels are a bad idea, as the setting doesn't support them mechanically or flavorfully.
Keep in mind that too much power and treasure can isolate the players from the world: when a player character is a being who can lay waste to cities in an instant, there's a gap between him or her and the other people who inhabit the world. A good guideline is that if most NPCs have nothing they want to or even could discuss with the PCs, something has gone wrong.
|Disposing of a monstrous noble is a great adventure hook.
The adventure opportunities offered by Pansaer are endless, thanks to the varied world and multitude of cultural zones. Players can engage in city politics in the corrupt power center of Redford, travel the scorching Red Wastes to find the ancient City of Winds, or protect the great bridges of Tull from an invading eastern force. The focus and scale of the campaign is free for the players and the Dungeon Master to decide.
Years of Gold is designed with more mundane, less world-spanning adventures in mind. The setting has the tools for massive campaigns of titan-level proportions, but the low-magic, down-to-earth feel of the setting works best when the players are trying to slay an invading warlord, not the gods themselves.
The rich atmosphere and plethora of NPCs and areas allows a Dungeon Master to fairly easily build a campaign in the setting. The Sample Quests and Flavor Pieces should set you on the right track; playing a few of the quests presented there before delving into a deeper, more intricate plot should give you a feel of how the setting works.
Why play Years of Gold?
Because it's tons and tons of fun! I've DM'd several adventures in the setting for my group, and it is their enjoyment that finally made me upload my material here and to give it the finishing touches. They've loved the revamped balance, depth of the setting and especially the grim feel of everything. Nerds can't be wrong: Years of Gold is awesome!
Okay, enough self-indulgence. That said, I do believe the setting is treading ground few other settings have satisfyingly covered. A great example of another setting with a similar feel is J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth: magic is rare and not orderly or defined, mythical creatures are rare and thus all the more imposing, and danger and death is ever present. It's safe to say Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the single greatest inspiration for Pansaer.
Differences to standard D&D
The average D&D setting, as presented in the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide etc. is a high fantasy setting that draws inspiration from a huge amount of sources, to allow leeway for any sort of adventure. This is a great setting for rulebooks, but it lacks focus; it lacks flavor. Here are listed the greatest differences to standard D&D, which seek to focus Years of Gold to the themes discussed above.
The races presented in the standard D&D are varied and many, but this is both a blessing and a curse: it allows for breathing room, but again lacks focus. Besides, it has a habit of leading players to certain builds again and again. Want to make a graceful, lithe woman who's studied the arcane arts? Be an elf; a flavorful human character is right out of the question. The races also have flavor "baggage" attached to them, which I wanted to get rid of.
The race options have been reduced to five PC races: humans, dwarves, dunners, goblins and goliaths. These are the races players are expected to choose from, although at the Dungeon Master's discretion other races can be used: centaurs, for example, could make for an interesting choice. Of these five, dunners and goliaths are entirely new, and humans, dwarves and goblins have been modified to fit the setting. An important change is that no races receives bonuses or penalties to their mental stats (Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma).
For more info on the races, see Races.
As with the races, the classes of standard D&D have been greatly modified to fit the setting. The biggest changes are to the spellcasting classes: most have been dropped completely, with the spellcasting trio now formed by cleric, sorcerer and wizard, each changed to reflect a more limited scope and sharper focus.
In the low-magic setting of Years of Gold, the ordinary "tiers" (or levels of power associated with certain classes) are somewhat diminished, although the fact that spellcasters are stronger than other characters remains a fact: it's a feature of the 3.5e spell system, and changing it would mean revamping the entire system, in which case you could just play another RPG.
For more info on the races, see Classes.
|The Word can be rewritten, the Law subverted.
Years of Gold runs on the idea that there is no single source of magic, or a universal way to cast spells. In fact, there are no spells. How magic is represented in the world varies case-by-case, being basically divided into three categories: powers granted by gods and godlike beings, powers inherent to a creature, and manipulation of the Word and Law of the world after the fashion of wizards.
Many divine beings, commonly the gods of the titan pantheon but also some animist divinities, lesser god-beings and even primordial horrors, can grant magic-like powers to an individual. In these cases, it's the power-granting force doing the magic, not the individual. This is similar to standard D&D cleric fluff, and can take many forms: for example, you can roleplay a spellcaster that gains his or her powers from connection to a lesser fire-god that's contained in the lantern the sorcerer owns.
Some creatures on Pansaer have inherent, magic-like powers and abilities that defy explanation and stem from the personal power and capabilities of that creature or its race. The powers of the titan-gods are an example of this, as are the abilities of dragons, elementals, lycanthropes and so on. This is the common explanation for sorcerers: people born with strange abilities and skills that defy explanation, and are unique and inherent to that person.
The wizards have what they call manipulation of the Word and the Law, or the arcane arts for short. The Word is the set of rules that governs the world to the miniscule details: things fall downwards at a certain velocity, fire is so-and-so degrees if burning coal and so forth - its what you'd call the laws of physics. The Law is the universal force that makes the things outlined in the Word happen. The world knows that a spear, thrust at human skin and muscle, should penetrate that flesh in a certain way, but it is the Law that makes those things happen. It's what you'd call actual physics.
Wizards have discovered that if one knows perfectly, down to the last detail, how the Word of a certain phenomenon works, they can use their force of will to rewrite the Word, and then the Law takes care of the rest. A wizard might, for example, study every facet of heat, burning, desiccation and warmth, and then momentarily rewrite the Word to state the fire does not burn him, and the Law makes it so. Thus, wizards are first and foremost scientists and scholars, not Elminster-esque warriors.
Here are listed some of the mechanical changes that affect the flavor and feel of the setting, whilst also striving for balance. Many of the points mentioned here are discussed in more detail in Variant Rules.
- Alignment: The nine-point alignment system is completely scrapped in Years of Gold. It is a rough tool at best, useful for simple campaigns but entirely unsuited to the kind of delicate, more-than-meets-the-eye gameplay that the setting strives for. It's also not a good representation of real-world personalities: no human is "good", even in the most general of meanings. People are driven by goals, desires and dreams far too delicate for the basic alignment system.
- Difficulty: The lowered power level of classes, spellcasting and otherwise, should be taken into account when hosting a game in Years of Gold. Since the players have access to less money, magic items, spells and companions, challenges should be changed accordingly. All encounters should shift roughly a level of CR downwards (that is, a normal challenge for an ECL4 adventuring party should be CR3, not CR4), unless you really want to challenge your players. This means that characters advance more slowly thanks to reduced XP gain, which is good, since the setting works best at low-to-mid levels.
- Dungeon delving: The setting is great for dungeon delving, especially when linked with more roleplay-oriented aspects and parts of playing. Many spells and abilities that make dungeons moot or trivial, such as passwall, teleport and fly, have been nerfed or even removed entirely. Note that this is not in order to spite spellcasters; rather, it allows for more wholesome and coherent playing experience.
- Ease of travel: Years of Gold is a fantastic opportunity to emphasize the practical aspects and difficulty of traveling, especially for groups who enjoy that sort of playing and the roleplaying opportunities those aspects offer. Using the rules found in Dungeon Master's Guide and other supplements, a Dungeon Master can make the trek between two cities a great adventure. If the gaming group doesn't like this sort of play, however, shortcuts and simplifications can be used as normal.
- Skills & Feats: Many small changes to the feat and skill systems of standard D&D have taken place, discussed in the Skills & Feats portion of the setting. These changes seek to enforce balance and strengthen flavor.
- Treasure: The amount of treasure that players receive in Pansaer, both magical and mundane, is reduced. This seeks to enforce the low-magic, down-to-earth feeling of the setting and to make those few magic items that do exist more important and wondrous in comparison. As a general guideline, items the equivalent of +1 are uncommon but can be found in most cities, items the equivalent of +2 are very rare and only available in the metropolises, and items the equivalent of +3 are artifacts that only the greatest dwarven smiths know how to make. Items stronger than that should be unique.