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Thread: 1920s D&D

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    Default 1920s D&D

    Hey all, I'm planning on running a 5e campaign, and an idea came to mind. Basically, run it in the tech and society equivalent of the 1920s, with cars, blimps, and mafia all around the big city. The only thing missing, to keep it at least plausible for the system, would be guns. Yes, I know that's implausible with the other tech, but I kind of like the idea of mafia enforcers walking around in plate armor and wielding morningstars, or a bank robbery with a crossbow.

    The vague idea is to focus on an analogue to America: a formerly colonial nation that became independent and is now attracting immigrants from around the world. The "normal" races, like humans, elves, and dwarves, form up the majority of the population, while most immigrants are other races from the Old World, like orcs, goblins, and gnolls. Lots of obvious space for tension there, and the requisite crime families probably prey on these immigrants / recruit from them.

    I feel like most backgrounds can transfer pretty easily, such as Sage becoming a college background, or a Folk Hero being the hero of a certain ward in the city. If cars are a thing, I might allow players to give up another skill to gain the ability to drive, since I assume it wasn't a universal thing in that time period. Plenty of opportunities for vampires that prowl the midnight alleys, or rakshasas in penthouse suites.

    So, does this sound like a good idea? Can I fit this world into D&D, or am I trying to fit a round peg into a square hole? Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    Quote Originally Posted by mythmonster2 View Post
    Hey all, I'm planning on running a 5e campaign, and an idea came to mind. Basically, run it in the tech and society equivalent of the 1920s, with cars, blimps, and mafia all around the big city. The only thing missing, to keep it at least plausible for the system, would be guns. Yes, I know that's implausible with the other tech, but I kind of like the idea of mafia enforcers walking around in plate armor and wielding morningstars, or a bank robbery with a crossbow.
    I guess you could do this, but beyond guns you'll need some reason why some kind of steampunk military technologies haven't developed as well.

    The vague idea is to focus on an analogue to America: a formerly colonial nation that became independent and is now attracting immigrants from around the world. The "normal" races, like humans, elves, and dwarves, form up the majority of the population, while most immigrants are other races from the Old World, like orcs, goblins, and gnolls. Lots of obvious space for tension there, and the requisite crime families probably prey on these immigrants / recruit from them.
    This involves conflating fantasy species with human cultural groups. My advice: don't do this, please, for your own sake. This leads down the path of Bright, and that is not a road you want to walk. If you want to have humans, elves, and dwarves, just introduce differences between the humans, elves, and dwarves in the independent colonies versus those in the old world that are appropriate for those species. For example, if elves are forest dwellers they might react very differently to the variant overstory communities between the Eastern US and Western Europe, while dwarves from the stark, often glaciated Alps might find the stubby, heavily eroded Appalachians require an entirely different city style.

    So, does this sound like a good idea? Can I fit this world into D&D, or am I trying to fit a round peg into a square hole? Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?
    D&D is mostly about adventurers who plunder the lost wealth and achievements of a previous iteration of civilization. When interposed into a colonial context this gets...difficult. I'd suggest making your colonial continent empty, absent and living native populations, to mitigate the attendant squickiness.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    I actually think this sounds amazing! I'd play in it for sure.

    I don't want to mix too much real world politics in with this discussion of fantasy magic zeppelin drive-by-crossbowing not-Chicago, but suffice it to say that I don't see any issues with having the resident vs immigrant thing interposed with fantasy races and their archetypes in fiction. For an example of that being done brilliantly, see Terry Pratchet's Ankh Morpork. Actually, if you haven't read those books, I highly recommend them, as they sort of do something similar to what the OP is talking about, including a city that feels culturally at home in a modern time period but which has no guns (but lots of immigrant dwarves, trolls, vampires, and goblins. And a Nobby Nobbs).

    I think this could be a brilliant D&D game. Old school D&D games were often of the dungeon crawl, stab 'n loot variety, but I've run urban gang wars, mysteries, swashbuckling high skies adventures, and base building games using D&D rules before, often with nary a dungeon or dragon to be found. It's worked just fine, the rules especially in 5E are versatile enough to handle lots of different kinds of games. I still wouldn't use D&D for a game that didn't include a very high action quotient, but it sounds like this game will provide planty of opportunity for fights and derring-do on the greasy streets of not-Chicago, so I think it will be fine.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mythmonster2 View Post
    Hey all, I'm planning on running a 5e campaign, and an idea came to mind. Basically, run it in the tech and society equivalent of the 1920s, with cars, blimps, and mafia all around the big city. The only thing missing, to keep it at least plausible for the system, would be guns. Yes, I know that's implausible with the other tech, but I kind of like the idea of mafia enforcers walking around in plate armor and wielding morningstars, or a bank robbery with a crossbow.

    The vague idea is to focus on an analogue to America: a formerly colonial nation that became independent and is now attracting immigrants from around the world. The "normal" races, like humans, elves, and dwarves, form up the majority of the population, while most immigrants are other races from the Old World, like orcs, goblins, and gnolls. Lots of obvious space for tension there, and the requisite crime families probably prey on these immigrants / recruit from them.

    I feel like most backgrounds can transfer pretty easily, such as Sage becoming a college background, or a Folk Hero being the hero of a certain ward in the city. If cars are a thing, I might allow players to give up another skill to gain the ability to drive, since I assume it wasn't a universal thing in that time period. Plenty of opportunities for vampires that prowl the midnight alleys, or rakshasas in penthouse suites.

    So, does this sound like a good idea? Can I fit this world into D&D, or am I trying to fit a round peg into a square hole? Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?
    It's a viable idea but the devil's in the details.

    The tech tree thing comes down to fiat. Is the 1920s tech running on coal and diesel, with DC power and gas lines haphazardly expanding through the city, or are there magical analogues? 3e Eberron had engines powered by elementals instead of boilers; Final Fantasy done a bunch of steampunky magic settings (6, though, fitting the closest). Is the firearm issue a matter of a gap in technological development...for example, because enchantment makes arrows and bolts better options, so guns don't develop into a full panoply of person arms...or a product of a social development such that the principles of firearms are understood but no-one uses them..for example a legal ban that's ease to enforce with magical detection, or some kind of bullet ward that makes them ineffective...or is there a gap in the supply of materials that makes firearms so convenient...ie, components of gunpowder (or specifically smokeless powder), or lead for bulllets.

    Maybe Steve the Bullet God is just a absolute knob and nobody want to deal with him.

    Creating a location that an ex-colony with more migrants coming means that you have to have sense of the rest of the world so that neighborhoods and groups feel fleshed out and fresh. This means a rough picture of the globe both as a map of nations and a map of cultures, a vague sense of long-term history and very refined picture of the last century of global history. Map out the bit of the 20s you want to emphasize and consider how events bent towards those conditions.

    For example, a Chicago-equivalent is shaped by its role as a central rail line moving cattle from farms to processing to markets--meaning lots of jobs for immigrants to seek. But that means there has to be a western-expansion and Indian Wars analogue (for there to be ranches and rail lines), and captains of industry to rake in most of the money and rapidly grow the city, and people willing to migrate because conditions in their native territory ain't so good (because of Jim Crow and the KKK, because of WW1, because of pogroms, because of escaping colonial empires). For archetypal Chicago gangsters to manifest, there has to be a criminal-economy equivalent of bootlegging and its derivatives, otherwise there'd be nothing for gangs to alternately form mobs and turf war over. A Roaring Twenties means a Jazz Age culturally, a general societal restlessness after a world war demographically, and a Great Depression financially.

    It's not that the fantasy world has to perfectly recapitulate the minutiae of history, but that versimilitude requires a context that "feels" coherent.

    eta: In addition to Ankh-Morpork, look at Shadowrun RPG stuff. While it's a cyberpunk setting, the gritty feel and focus on characters operating in cityscapes might give you some ideas about how your scenario might feel.
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2019-02-23 at 12:29 AM.

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    I think you should restrict the setting to a major city in the roaring twenties, and avoid any discussion over which groups are native to the country.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    D&D is mostly about adventurers who plunder the lost wealth and achievements of a previous iteration of civilization. When interposed into a colonial context this gets...difficult. I'd suggest making your colonial continent empty, absent and living native populations, to mitigate the attendant squickiness.
    I say the above because this also has some pretty bad implications when basing your setting on something that actually happened. "I'm going to ignore there being a native group that was living in the place I'm basing the setting on," is also pretty squicky. That's why I'm suggesting "that entire subject is outside the scope of the game" instead. Just have some groups be recent immigrants and some groups having been there longer to maintain the same tone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    This involves conflating fantasy species with human cultural groups. My advice: don't do this, please, for your own sake. This leads down the path of Bright, and that is not a road you want to walk. If you want to have humans, elves, and dwarves, just introduce differences between the humans, elves, and dwarves in the independent colonies versus those in the old world that are appropriate for those species. For example, if elves are forest dwellers they might react very differently to the variant overstory communities between the Eastern US and Western Europe, while dwarves from the stark, often glaciated Alps might find the stubby, heavily eroded Appalachians require an entirely different city style.
    As long as you actually think through the setting in any amount of detail, it'll work better than Bright. As in, think through how dragons and centaurs fit your setting instead of randomly throwing in a dragon or centaur cop.

    But yeah, the culture of a race changing slightly after a few generations probably fits better than making humans/dwarves/elves=the native people. Make them the groups that have lived there longer, but make some references to them having moved in and set up.

    As a more specific suggestion, you can probably get some good stories out of having prohibition in your setting. In which case there should be some law (equivalent to the 1st amendment's protection of religious liberty) that allows specific groups to transport alcohol despite prohibition. Then have some smaller group using that as legal grounds for obtaining and transporting the alcohol they're illegally selling.
    Spoiler: Backpedaling Note
    Show
    Any group doing this probably need to belong to one of the traditional "good guy" races (humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, ect.). [Redacted].

    [Redacted] But again, avoiding squick might require you to put such themes outside the scope of the setting.

    Edits: I had the actual IRL group you could be making unfortunate implication about named. On second though, I'm not confident that's within forum rules despite me saying "be careful because you don't end up implying racist things about these IRL people."


    Overall, I would trim down the setting to what you actually want out of it. I've written this assuming you want major cities experiencing something equivalent to the roaring twenties. But that doesn't mean those are the themes/backgrounds/other parts of a setting you care about the most.
    Last edited by sandmote; 2019-02-23 at 06:13 PM.
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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    This does sound interesting.

    About cars: in the real U.S. driving didn't become a near-universal skill until after World War 2. For the 1920s you'll be fine just using the vehicles (land) tool proficiency for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mythmonster2 View Post
    The only thing missing, to keep it at least plausible for the system, would be guns.
    Honestly, considering how often I've seen guns in the classical medieval-fantasy d&d, especially since the creation of Matthew Mercer's gunslinger, I think you could easily add them and still remain true to the style of the game. But that's just my opinion. You do you.

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    reason for no guns.
    They suck compared to cantrips.
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    And of course Lizard Wizard (Lizardfolk Sorcerer)

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    Dimension 20 has some good stuff to draw inspiration from for things like this.
    Quote Originally Posted by RadarMonkey1 View Post
    I suddenly feel that my character is not as optimized as it could be...

    Oh well, it should still be fun.

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    I'd echo a lot of things here, but there is an observation I've been meaning to make on similar threads recently.

    The difference between Discworld and Bright.

    Bright takes our world, cultures and economy and slaps fantasy races onto them.

    Discworld takes fantasy races and slaps modernity on them.

    The result? You have Urban Gangsta Orcs in a city named due to the action of Christian missionaries on the one hand and on the other you have an emerging dwarven cis-gender movement and dead-rights activism. The former lets you call African Americans Orcs by implication, the other lets you ask the question "to what extent does society let me decide who I am" from an odd angle. The former has some sort of Orc Inclusion initiative, the latter has the Campaign for Equal Heights. The former let you make racist jokes, the latter asks "Why is a social majority trying to lead the charge for the social minority's rights and not that minority?"

    I've heard people refer to PTerry's Dwarfs as Welsh, Vikings, Polish, Mexican, Jewish, Muslim and the LGBTQ+ community. They aren't. They are Discworld Dwarfs. If they have similar issues to those groups, well it only helps show that we all have similar issues to each other.

    There are interesting things you can explore with fantasy races if you want (I imagine in a 1920s style economy the inherited wealth problem only gets worse and harder to solve when some citizens live 800 years) but start with the race and the set up and see where that goes.
    Last edited by Evil DM Mark3; 2019-10-02 at 08:57 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mythmonster2 View Post
    Hey all, I'm planning on running a 5e campaign, and an idea came to mind. Basically, run it in the tech and society equivalent of the 1920s, with cars, blimps, and mafia all around the big city. The only thing missing, to keep it at least plausible for the system, would be guns. Yes, I know that's implausible with the other tech, but I kind of like the idea of mafia enforcers walking around in plate armor and wielding morningstars, or a bank robbery with a crossbow.

    The vague idea is to focus on an analogue to America: a formerly colonial nation that became independent and is now attracting immigrants from around the world. The "normal" races, like humans, elves, and dwarves, form up the majority of the population, while most immigrants are other races from the Old World, like orcs, goblins, and gnolls. Lots of obvious space for tension there, and the requisite crime families probably prey on these immigrants / recruit from them.

    I feel like most backgrounds can transfer pretty easily, such as Sage becoming a college background, or a Folk Hero being the hero of a certain ward in the city. If cars are a thing, I might allow players to give up another skill to gain the ability to drive, since I assume it wasn't a universal thing in that time period. Plenty of opportunities for vampires that prowl the midnight alleys, or rakshasas in penthouse suites.

    So, does this sound like a good idea? Can I fit this world into D&D, or am I trying to fit a round peg into a square hole? Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?
    If they had cars, they could have tanks, and tanks without guns would be rather strange. There is no reason for a person to wear a suit of full plate armor if they can drive around in a tank. It is easier to set D20 modern in the 1920 and you can have all your fantasy races in it with magic if you want, that is what d20 modern was designed for.
    Last edited by Tom Kalbfus; 2019-10-02 at 09:20 AM.

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    You say fantasy 1920s and immigrants and I hear Lovecraft.
    Dont run away!
    I mostly means the dreamlands.

    More fairy elves, maybe immigrants from other PLAINS.
    About guns, yeah, world with common cantrips, guns are too expansive.
    You could also make refrences to a fallen local ancient civilization
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    Quote Originally Posted by mythmonster2 View Post
    Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?
    Ah, you're lookin' at Prohibition, see? Got the players running molls and shysters, see, packing heat and trying to get that cabbage before getting tossed in a meat wagon, see?

    Well, if you're changing the venue, the first things that leap to mind are:

    A) Subclasses

    You're going to need new fighters, rogues, wizards, etc. who are built for the situation at hand. That's not just 1920's, either. You said no guns, fine. But there are still cars and planes. And you're not that far from the Golden Age of Radio. What if a sorcerer had, well, radio powers? Long distance communication or eavesdropping? Or focused into a microwave beam?

    B) Avoid Blatant Racism

    It'd be both easy and hilarious to make, say, the kobolds the mafia. There's an entire thread on that!

    But, if you're making a 1920's parallel, bear in mind that people got into a specific organized crime unit/family because of loyalty not ethnicity. Granted, trust was easier to give to family and friends, but anyone who demonstrated their dedication would find a spot.

    C) Air Travel

    You mentioned blimps. The Goodyear Blimp usually flies 1,500 feet above the ground and has a top speed of 50MPH. 1920's blimps were probably both lower and slower. You'd want to stay out of arrow/fireball range from the ground, of course, but these things aren't exactly outracing dragons. Ever seen a movie where small, agile fighters attack a larger, heavier vehicle? Of course you have, Star Wars is full of them, plus WW2 movies. Now, replace the fighter planes with fire-breathing drakes or young dragons, and think Hindenburg. Surely you can make an adventure out of that!

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    Don't necro the thread, but...

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    So about how to deal with the immigrants and avoiding Bright levels of ethnic group/race replacement issues.

    Firstly. Natives. Any time there is game where colonialism is or was a major factor in the game world things need to be handled with a delicate hand and natives are a probably one of the touchiest of the subjects. That said dungeon delving and lost ancient powers are staples of the DnD game and the twenties were a high point for roving adventurers looting ancient civilizations so having ruins to plunder could be a real bonus. So some ideas on dealing with this.

    Have there be ruins of a/many great civilizations but have their people all have mysteriously vanished...perhaps in some semi-understood cataclysm or something.
    Really I'd recommend there being no daughter civilizations or peoples because you get to skip the political and moral issues of looting graveyards and the like.
    if you really want some decedent people I'd recommend the dragonborn. They have the least classical baggage in what they represent to most gamers being a newer race and not of the Middle Earth and related eras. But even then I'd have really hard limits to their own links to the ruined nations.
    Have said ruins not look/feel like colonial as much as you can. Assuming you are playing in the Anglosphere or Western Europe use basic sybology that is more at home with the ancient "legacies" that those nations call their own. Such as Rome or Greece (maybe with ancient Celt or Norse too-depends on what works). Using Latinate names alone with a few marble colonnades, a thing for chariots, statues in temples, and you are basically halfway there. It's more a matter of avoiding the "you are digging up an ancient Hindu/Aztec temple" feel that can be really tempting to do in order to feel "exotic".

    On Elf/Human/Dwarf vs "new" immigrants.
    I'll toss out an example foundation story/set up that I think could work and try to explain why as I go so You'll see my thinking more than anything.
    Many years after the cataclym on the Southern continent various factions on the northern continent started to look to the now empty lands as a place of expansion. (This is to avoid natives vs colonist issues) Many nations of the various northern people set up small and expanding colonies on the northern shore. Most were linked by trade to only their own mother country officially but had strong if officially illegal contacts with their neighbors (this sets up a long history of smuggling/avoiding the law/and lays both reason to revolt and alliances between colonies) and many of those nations had several dispersed colonies on the continent. During a period of unrest and war on the northern continent several colonies chose instead of going to war on the orders of disant masters to rebel an a group of colonies of 3 elves, 4 dwarven, and 5 human settlements broke away into a new nation. (why 12? makes for a good mystical number, decent council size, allows for variation in each race in terms of ancestry etc without being overwhelming and didn't want to have them all be the same number...the war on the northern continent explains why the mother nations couldn't just come and take them back over) Since this happened a couple of generations ago the new formally colonial nation has expanded deeper into the continent and also pushed new trade routes back onto the Northern continent now that the mother nations no longer hold trade monopolies with them. Since the new nation holds strict neutrality (which is friendly enough if often tense) with the various mother nations it has opened itself up to both trade and eventually immigration from nations beyond those mother nations in order to avoid complications. This second wave of immigrants are particularly common in the more interior cities where opportunity is still considered more "fresh" (like your "Base City/Chicago" type we were talking about. ) More recently much of the northern continent has been wracked with issues (war/religion/whatever). The main DEH motherlands largely avoided the worst of it (some say the war when the rebellion happened was a precursor to this one). This has taken the previously forged avenues of immigration forged in the interwar years and turned them into a veritable flood. Fundamentally changing the makeup of young nation, not always to the DEH populations liking.
    Basically make your elves/dwarves/humans (DEH?) have some variety within themselves.
    Have them be able to trade with and bring in non-DEH people only post independence in order to lock in the "old" vs "new" line for the social conflict you are speaking about.
    Figure out a reason the DEH homelands are not the primary source of immigrants (or maybe they are but not locally) or have too much influence and power to that such power is more within the reach of the players or the villains.

    i'll come back when I have time for anti-gun ideas...
    But my first is that the magic god/goddess/dieties hate them, curse them. All casting against guns gets advantage and all casting to aid a gun user gains disadvantage. This has led to less interest in firearm development vs equal tech levels in other fields. And further are a statement that the user stands against the will ofthe gods.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2019-10-22 at 05:43 PM.

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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    Guns don't exist because they weren't invented. If the PC's try to invent them they find out flammable substances like gunpowder can't cause an explosion in this universe, if they're locked up in a small place they'll burn slowly until the pressure is relieved, so the bullet slowly scoots out of the barrel which then releases the bang of exploding gunpowder. To make a (non-magical) explosion in this world you need high explosives like nitroglycerin/dynamite, which is too unstable for use in guns and will blow your gun up on the first attempt. And anyone who does more research into the matter than that gets eaten by ghosts, which have no hit dice and never stop before their target has been dragged to the plane of hellfire.

    It's a provable scientific fact of this world, it's in textbooks and everything. Every NPC they could possibly ask about it knows it, it might even be a DC2 on a knowledge (anything) check.

    If someone is still rules lawyering after this explanation, carefully and patiently explain to them that you're trying to play D&D, which uses arrows and spells, not submachine guns.

    If they keep complaining after this, retcon your setting and allow guns.



    Bonus points if the PC's trick the final boss of the campaign into researching gun technology.
    Last edited by Lvl 2 Expert; 2019-10-26 at 06:34 AM.
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    Default Re: 1920s D&D

    I really don't see the point of playing in the 1920s without guns. That's like playing a game set in the Roman empire and saying "I don't want to allow the gladius though, because it's too overpowered. The legions used it and they were unstoppable killing machines!"

    If I'm playing in a 1920s D&D game, I want to be a monk doing the gunkata with a pair of Colt .45s or a barbarian spraying a Tommy gun one-handed while riding on the running boards of a car.

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