The Canyonlands – a mood board for a ttrpg campaign

The Canyonlands stretch from the Kalakar mountains, through the Fatherless Desert, to the sea. It is said that if a person remains in the canyons for a single day, they will never be found again. They will be lost to any pursuers, to any allies, and to themself. There are civilized beings that inhabit the lands: the minotaurs of the Tomingo labyrinth, flocks of nomadic aarakocra, and kobolds—seemingly endless in number—who reside in the massive Starlight Cavern. Any of these groups will warn travelers against venturing into the canyons, but they will also be there to loot the bodies and return with the wares of the unfortunate and heedless.

Your mark has been in the canyon called Quickrock for at least 48 hours, depending on which Kobold camp you ask. You followed his trail to one of the numerous entrances to Starlight, and though the time and specific details about this individual vary, they all say he went into the canyon, one pack, alone. At least 48 hours ago. Headed to the Pole. Headed to magical power and the wrath of that blasted landscape when it burst into the world, two decades past.


This is the second game I’m planning that takes place in my unnamed “new magic” world, but I am deliberately trying to not use any of the locales, characters, or themes from that game. I just like a world where magic is new and still scary, and I figured out a little of what its deal was when I ran that game.

Thri-Kreen leaping into action.
Thri-kreen predator by Jason Engel

The Canyonlands region is inspired by a lot of Dark Sun artwork and a bit of the Dark Sun design ethos. The sorts of things that live in this terrain are either exceptionally hale or exceptionally good at scavenging–sneaking, ambushing, fighting dirty. The few civilizations that exist are insular in nature, and the many, many attempted civilizations that have come before can be found across the landscape in various states of decay.

Headless, winged statue
Retrieved from Archillect on Twitter

I want to run this in Whitehack 3E as a modern take on OSR gaming. The physical cost of “miracles” fits well with the dangers of new magic, and the open-ended nature of the system seems like a good match for the idea that there hasn’t been time for official training to develop, nor expansive spellbooks to be written, so the characters are likely creating these spells for the first time. I want it to feel like craft, discovery, and happy accidents.

Whitehack 3E
Whitehack by Christian Mehrstam

Whitehack is also designed to be challenging and deadly, which are two good descriptors of the Canyonlands. The PCs, as members (in some form or another) of a massive criminal syndicate, start the game as disposable resources for their handlers to throw at a problem (“a mage wanders into the canyon…”) until it is resolved. I’m well-versed in 2E (and I understand 3E is not mechanically very different) but I don’t think any of my players will be, and this will be a shift from the “character-as-extension-of-self-from-level-one” nature of modern D&D. I also want to stop giving money to WotC.

So far, I’ve written a few thousand words on the region, and maybe a thousand more on the first gameplay session. This is the part where I tend to get stuck (and it’s where I fizzled out on the 900 Cells), because it is so dependent on the characters’ choices as they interact with the world and learn more about it: say, are they going to resent being used as fodder by their shadowy masters, or do they like the perks that come with it well enough to take some risks? Will they take their task seriously, or will they spend days hanging out with the Kobolds? Everything’s a valid option here, and that influences the worldbuilding.

Next steps: flesh out a few possible options, fill in the blanks for the important stuff that’s happening already, and tables. Everyone loves a table.

More to come.