Welcome to the New Frontier campaign setting. In 2002 Wizards of the Coast held a contest to create a new core campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons. I submitted five separate proposals. Of the five, New Frontier was the one that held the most interest for me. It was a world of new possibilities. An unwritten story, a history undiscovered, a world that would bring player, character, and even DM together in a common quest of discovery and exploration.
Like most of my Dungeons and Dragons adventures, New Frontier can trace its beginnings to my experiences playing 1st edition AD&D with my Uncle Richard. His Campaign had a very strong historical tone. Paladins were Christians and evil clerics were Satan worshipers. All aspects of his campaign had an insane amount of historical detail. He would spend hours poring over history books to learn more about ancient cultures, customs and technologies. Often we went on trips to the Higgins Armory in Worcester, Massachusetts to learn about the arms and armor of the day; to Plymouth Plantation and Mystic Seaport to observe the daily life of America’s earliest settlers.
From this strong historical background New Frontier was born. New Frontier combines the familiarity of the history and times of early America, with the innate mystery of exploration. The New Frontier is fresh and unexplored. No one knows what is over the next hill, or up the river. From the moment characters step off the boat, anything could happen. There is only one Old World city in the New Frontier, and but a handful of outposts and villages. The New Frontier is the perfect setting for pure adventure and exploration.
The “Real World” time period of the New Frontier is from about 1587, when Virginia Dare was born in America, to 1720, the pre-revolutionary era. But this strong historical context is tempered with the legends and superstitions of the times. The Salem witch trials of 1692 are a great example. A sense of panic spread throughout the colonies in 1692, and many colonies held their own trials against accused witches. In the New Frontier D&D campaign setting, the witches are not townspeople falsely accused by a bunch of school children playing a prank, but are in fact real witches using their powers to influence these young children. Voodoo magic is very real, Ghosts haunt the native burial grounds, and the myths of Bigfoot, Mermaids, and Old Scratch could all be true. American Folklore such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, The Jersey Devil, The Headless Horseman, Mike Fink, The Lake Champlain Monster and even stories about Jesse James and Wild Bill have a place in the New Frontier.
Two World’s Divided
There is one real conceit in the New Frontier campaign setting: for one reason or another, the player character has chosen to leave the Old World behind forever. If the Old World is easily accessible – along with all the comforts and conveniences of the civilized world – New Frontier loses its charm. Voyages across the ocean only occur annually, and each of these trips is long and dangerous. The Old World is left purposefully undeveloped in this work, since it is a place to which the player characters should never need return. The Old World is best left imagined as a place where varied cultures and beliefs intermingle on a daily basis. A place where there is nothing left to explore. It is the civilized world of bureaucracies, red tape, titles, banking, leases, debts, and underhandedness. It is the world of Papers and Paychecks, not Dungeons and Dragons. The Old World should be thought of as unappealing and hostile. The New Frontier, by contrast, is vast and unexplored….unknown. There, king and commoner are treated as equals; a place where a person’s might with a blade or keen knowledge of magic are all that is needed for great success. There is only one city and even there, title and rank are a matter of course and hold no true value. Here anyone with the will to lead could be a heroic king. Anything is possible in this boundless and free land.
The Unknown Land
As the campaign begins, the Archeron Colony has just survived its 10th winter since it was established in the New Frontier. The Founders of the colony, the Arch Ventures, have decided to start running regular merchant travel from the Old World in an effort to establish the colony as a trade outpost. Perhaps it is on one of these first waves of transport ships that our player characters find their way to the new frontier. In their youth, the Arch Ventures sailed the eastern coast of the New Frontier and created a map of the continent’s coast line. This map is the only surveyed portions of the New Frontier. Everything else is unknown. The prospect of an unspoiled and unexplored land has attracted all kinds of people. King and commoner alike are eager to board these ships for the chance to start fresh and be part of something new and unknown. Arcane magic especially has not found a place in the Old World. Evangelical Clerics persecute the use of arcane magic, and complicated and intricate local and national laws make in practically impossible to use magic at all without being incarcerated. The Old World is also home to strict social stratification. Corporations control the production of steel and common goods, and while the owners of these corporations enjoy the finest luxuries of flushing toilets, running water, and steam heating, the vast majority of the population toil in the factories and work eighty-hour weeks just to get by. Even the warrior, a once highly trained and respected profession has met its match in the technology of the Heavy Crossbow: a highly accurate and deadly weapon that requires almost no training to use and has been so overproduced and refined that a force of ten homeless vagrants so armed is more than a match for the typical armored soldier, and far cheaper as well.
So now it is up the Arch Ventures, who remember with fondness a simpler time of swords and sorcery, to deliver the adventurous spirit to a new world. It is their last recourse – the opportunity to begin anew.
Ten Things You Need To Know
1. Historical fantasy. The campaign combines traditional sword and sorcery with the backdrop of early American exploration and colonization. If Pocahontas was an elf, Cortez’ city of Gold was populated by Gnolls, The Fountain of Youth was home to Nerieds and Sirens, or if Paul Bunyan was a Titan, then you’ve entered the world of Historical Fantasy.
2. A world of non-traditional magic. Because the Old World frowns upon magic and the new frontier is not a place full of magical libraries and colleges a magic, the traditional method of acquiring new spells for Wizards by study and writing in spellbooks is not readily available. This does not mean the wizards do not exist. Only that it is more difficult for them to acquire new spells
3. A world of adventure. No one knows what’s over the next hill, not even the DM. Unlike the Forgotten Realms in which every town, river, house, and alleyway has a name and history and appears on the map, the New Frontier is unexplored and will be unique to each incarnation of the campaign. I have created the setting for adventure, where it goes is up to you. I suggest you make each journey full of discovery, surprises, and suspense.
4. No more unicorns All the player characters come from the “Real World” so all the mystical creatures we associate with a fantasy setting are just old legends and myths to the people of the Old World. No one has ever seen an orc, a dragon, or unicorn. But in the New Frontier, anything could exist. Strange and wonderful creatures inhabit every corner of this new continent. All of them are extraordinary and exciting to the people of the Old World.
5. The Archeron Colon. Baron Karza rules the Archeron Colony as Governor. While Archeron is officially sponsored by political forces in the Old World, the Arch Ventures founded the colony on their own and thus it has its own set of laws and regulations which are much more lax than anything in the Old World. It is the only known outpost of civilization in the New Frontier. It is the only place to go for any semblance of culture. Beyond its walls, an adventurer is at the mercy of the denizens of the New Frontier.
6. Simple needs, complex obstacles Those who travel to the New Frontier make the choice to leave the petty problems of the civilized world behind. To survive in the New Frontier all you need is food, water, and shelter; and the will to find your place in the world. Many forces may try to rob you of one or many of these things and the path you take may jeopardize your very life. But at the end of the day, if you have the basic tools for survival, then you’ve won the day.
7. Heroic origins The Seven Arch Ventures are names that nearly everyone knows: Baron Wolfgang Von Karza, Cavalier and co-leader of the Arch Ventures; Victor Acroya, Barbarian of the North turned Monk and co-leader of the Arch Ventures; Ryuko: The Midnight Fox, Ninja-girl and Vigilante; Maetel Der Neibelheim, heiress in an ancient family of wizards; “Bulls-eye” Buck Calloway, woodsman and naturalist; Rigolo Merriweather, lyric poet and musician, Co-founder of the Venturer’s Guild; and Esteban Friday Gonzales, paladin of Mythraas. The group was brought together to explore the New Frontier, but eight years ago a fight erupted within the party. The Seven are now scattered throughout the New Frontier: hiding or dead. But each of them has left a lasting mark on the world of The New Frontier.
8. Advanced Races & Classes. All starting characters are native to the Old World. But as your adventures in the New Frontier continue, players may choose to make characters native to this new land. While many players will be excited to start play as one of these new races or classes, I urge you to hold off your excitement until these types of characters are introduced into the game through exploration and adventure. It makes no sense for a starting character to be of a race no one has ever seen before.
9. Vernal Springs. In the logs of the Arch Ventures there are passages that speak of magical fountains that flow from ancient rocks in springtime. The Archeron Colony was built around one of these “Vernal Springs” but over the years its magic has run dry. Other Vernal Springs are very rare but are a source of great power. Anything placed within their waters is imbued with magic. Each has its own unique power, such as granting eternal youth, teleportation between two springs, bringing back the dead, or transformation into a fey. The natives are rumored to war over control of these Vernal Springs, and hold their locations as closely guarded secrets.
10. Cutt-off. Even the most powerful wizards and clerics cannot use magic to travel from the Old World to the New Frontier or vise-versa. Even if the distance were not so great, the lay-lines of magic do not connect one continent to the other.
Now get ready to board the ship to the New Frontier. A long voyage awaits you, but once your destination is reached, you will find yourself in an unexplored world, untainted and teeming with adventure; a world with near limitless possibilities. A New Frontier.