Mapwalkers is a campaign setting designed for fantasy role-playing games in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons.
(Note: This is very preliminary work, and may or may not be expanded in the future.)
Long ago, the world, or Mundus, as it is called in the Old Tongue, was covered by a strange, pale mist of unknown origin. This mist drove insane any person who breathed it for an extended period. Much confusion ensued, until the survivors constructed floating cities to escape the mist.
Around the same time the mysterious Cartographers' Guild appeared, offering a means of travelling between the cities, separated by vast expanses of nothing but thin air, by use of magical maps that transport people into another, maze-like reality...
Mist is what the surface of the planet is now generally called by those who live above. The surface is mostly covered with vast oceans and forests, which are home to the Fey, the only sentient creatures that can suffer the mist for more than a day or two without losing their minds. The mist is everywhere, and while some sunlight does get through, there is always a foggy haze in the air, made even eerier by many colourful luminescent plants.
Nonsentient creatures appear unaffected by the mist. And of course there are many kinds of monsters roaming the wilderness, some more intelligent than others. Whether the mist has an effect on them... well, it's kind of hard to say, isn't it.
The Spires are great towers that rise above the reach of the mist. They serve primarily as trading towns for the Fey and the people of the Cities, and as bases for hunters and adventurers who dare venture into Mist for profit or glory.
These vast floating fortresses are constructed from a crystalline material by the Crystalsmiths, and are home to the majority of the world's population.
The top level of a City is a vast garden, which provides sustenance to the inhabitants. (You might ask how a garden of such size, even the size of a city, can provide for the entire population. Well, these plants are very productive.) Below are several inhabitable levels. Shafts made of a special type of crystal channel light from the top, although the lower levels get gradually darker, the lowest being used primarily for storage. Or dungeons. The central part of a City is usually referred to as the Heart, and is the palace of the local Crystalsmith king.
In addition to vegetables from the garden, denizens capture birds, and other flying creatures. 'Birding' is a popular pastime, and the makers of the best birding rods and lures get a lot of respect.
Due to the peculiar taste of Crystalsmiths of old, the Cities tend to have strange poetic, metaphorical names like 'Third Rose of Dawn' or 'Oxen in Moonlight'. The meaning of many of these names has been all but forgotten.
What keeps the Cities up in the air? That's simple. It's magic.
Maze is a second reality, which allows for travel between any two points in Mundus. Entry into Maze is accomplished by the mysterious Maps drawn by members of the Cartographers' Guild. Many strange creatures, however, prey on unwary travellers.
Maze is paradoxical, in many ways. The world of each Map seems more or less unique, and self-contained. There are no exits to be seen that would lead to a larger reality. Yet creatures appear to live in the caves and tunnels, with no clear source of food, or even air, for that matter. Some even hoard loot. While sentient creatures are sometimes encountered, and some even return with travellers to Mundus, they only seem to get confused (and more aggressive) if questioned about their origin or lives in Maze.
The Crystalsmiths (Dwarves)
These short, stocky people are cunning artificers, whether they are working with metal or the magical crystal that forms the Cities. They are the creators of the Cities, and thus also their ruling class.
Humans have always been second class citizens, although tireless work by human rights groups is beginning to pay off. At least slavery has been (more or less) abolished these days. Most humans still work in manual labour, in the gardens or warehouses of the Cities.
During the exodus to the skies, the Halflings quickly found their niche as Masters of the Gardens. Their numbers remain fairly small (working on the open top level of the Cities can be perilous at times), but they are well respected for the vital work they do for the community.
The Fey (Elves etc.)
The greenskinned, pointy-eared denizens of the surface world of Mist, they appear to be immune to the insanity caused by the mist. Though in the opinion of many this is because they were crazy to begin with. Oh, they're rarely Evil, really, but talk about Chaotic...
Beside Elves, the Fey also include Fairies, Gnomes and other close relatives. The Gnomes, known as Tekfey, have a particular interest in salvaging ancient machines (or 'Tek') from ruins. These machines tend to be unpredictable and dangerous, and importing them into the Cities is generally banned by the Crystalsmith kings.
Sometimes strange creatures are brought back from journeys in Maze. Some are sentient and adapt (reasonably) well to life in Mundus. There may be some prejudice against such beings in certain circles, but mostly they live as productive members of society. Some individuals are entirely unique, while some races have come to Mundus in numbers and have begun to form their own minorities.
The Cartographers' Guild
One does not join the Guild, one is born to it. In fact, they are a whole race of their own. These mysterious blueskinned creatures mostly keep to themselves when not doing business. Not much is known about their ability to draw the magical Maps, not even whether it is an innate ability or acquired.
Seeing as how they practically control all long distance traffic, the Guild has considerable political power over all Mundus. However, they are usually willing to sell their Maps to almost anyone if the price is right. They are rarely seen in Mist, but have offices in every City and Spire.
They mostly dress in flowing silver robes. And have a peculiar passion for growing orchids.
Mapwalking is the only practical means of travel between the Cities. The Maps are made to order by the Cartographers' Guild. Each Map is unique, and when activated, a portal is opened, which transports the Map, and every person currently touching it, into Maze. Another portal may be activated to the final destination at a specific point beyond a series of passages and caverns, which are helpfully pictured on the Map. But the Map never shows everything, and there may be creatures and traps along the way... Should the return portal be activated in the wrong place, the travellers will appear at a point midway between the beginning and the destination. Which in most cases means a sudden plummet to an almost certain death.
Upon re-entry into Mundus, the map usually disintegrates. Permanent Maps (or 'Permamaps'), which allow entry into the same portion of Maze time after time, are very rare artefacts. These are desired by criminal masterminds as the perfect hideout.
Should a Map be destroyed while in Maze, the travellers will be forever stranded there. Or possibly simply cease to exist. It is hard to say, since no one has ever been able to reach a Mapwalking party that never arrived.
While regional disputes between the Fey tribes are fairly common, open warfare is practically unheard of in the Cities, due to the restrictions on travel. A significant body of warriors exists, however, working as hired guards on perilous journeys through Maze or as independent adventurers seeking treasures that may be found therein, or in ancient ruins in Mist.
The material on this page is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. You are granted permission to distribute and modify material, as long as you credit me, Ben B. Bainton, as the original author and distribute it or any derivative works under a similar license.