Welcome to Irongrave

Posted: 7 January 2011 in Settings
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“If no-one is paying you for writing your campaign material, plagiarise everything.” – James Wyatt, Dungeon Magazine 182

I have some actual players again, and they have requested “a fantasy game with no guns”, so that is what they shall have. They all seem happy with Savage Worlds, so that’s the rules sorted; SW Explorer’s Edition, with the extra races from the free Wizards & Warriors web supplement (but not the other W&W rules, as I prefer to diverge from the core rules as little as possible).

This will be an exercise in a limited palette; I’ll aim to create the minimum setting information necessary. For an Old School fantasy campaign, I think this is a dungeon and a base town.


The concept for this is an old iron mine,‭ ‬taken over by a‭ (‬literally‭) ‬underground religious cult,‭ ‬which later abandoned it.‭ ‬Imagine if Derinkuyu had been built inside Clearwell Caves.

Derinkuyu,‭ ‬Clearwell,‭ ‬and the mediaeval silver mine at Bere Ferrers were all in the range of‭ ‬200‭ ‬to‭ ‬250‭ ‬feet deep; that seems to be about as deep as one can go without prohibitively expensive adits or post-Mediaeval pumping technology.‭ ‬Figuring‭ ‬30‭ ‬feet between levels‭ ‬– about what you see in Derinkuyu‭ ‬– gives‭ ‬8‭ ‬levels in‭ ‬250‭ ‬feet.‭ ‬Clearwell Caves cover an area of about‭ ‬600‭ ‬acres,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬so there is plenty of room to spread out.

I’m still debating what to use as the dungeon map. In the past I’ve used random generators, deliberate plotting, electronic circuit diagrams, the London Underground, old boardgames, and memories of my home town.

However, I think class-and-level games like D&D go better with dungeon crawls, so maybe the SW party will just stay above ground.


I’ll call this Irongrave (isengraef is an Old English word meaning “iron mine”). Originally a port which grew up around the iron trade, this later became a holy site for the formerly underground cult, now the official state religion of the local kingdom. Both kingdom and religion will need names, but not just yet.

Grabbing some stats to go from S John Ross’ Mediaeval demographics research, the average city should have about 10,000 people and cover 165 acres. I probably won’t need a city map, but if I do, this will help me draw one.


I decide that there is a castle locally, both to keep watch over the dungeon (now home to a variety of monsters) and defend the city. Since I already have a religious cult, the castle can be a stronghold of the cult’s military arm, known as the Order Militant, which will be somewhat like the Knights Templar – however, rather than telling the PCs what the religion demands of them, I’ll construct its tenets from the way any clerical PCs behave.


As and when I need to expand things, I’ll use the area around Clearwell as a loose physical template, with Irongrave replacing Lydney in the real world – this means I can look things up and use them as a basis for setting information, rather than create it from scratch. Since Lydney and Clearwell are within a few miles of each other, the campaign area is quite small, so I can drop it into another setting easily if I feel the need later.

Setting history will be equally loosely based on the 11th century, so that the game date can default to the current real-world date minus 1,000 years. A quick look in my well-worn copy of The Timetables of History shows me that in 1011, Ethelred invades South Wales, the Danes invade Canterbury, and the Handkerchief of St Veronica is being kept in a special altar in Rome. There’s a bunch of scenario ideas right there.

I need orc and goblin territory close by, so that can be the Black Mountains; no offence intended to any Welsh readers!

Weather will be whatever is outside the window when we play; I wonder how long it will take the players to realise that?

I’ll use all this as a campaign seed, and see what grows from it.

  1. Erin says:

    Andy, this sounds like great fun – I’m really interested in reading as this unfolds. A couple of questions:

    * Are you using any particular edition/supplement of SW to plan this out? I ask because the SW seems a bit short on step-by-step campaign building, though I really like your approach (using real world history (minus 1,000 years) and basing weather on what’s going on outside the window).

    * Are you using the SW Fantasy Companion? If you’ve not seen it, the FC is more about characters, treasure, and monsters–less on campaign building ideas–but interesting supplement built on the SW foundation. Just curious.

    I need orc and goblin territory close by, so that can be the Black Mountains; no offence intended to any Welsh readers!

    None taken 😉 It’s funny–I’ve always referred to Wales as “Goblin-land.”


    • andyslack says:

      I’m just using the plain vanilla Explorer’s Edition – the basic rules – with rules for the Tolkeinoid races (elves, dwarves, hobbits) taken from the Wizards & Warriors web supplement. SW is indeed a little light on campaign building in the core rules, but I think that’s because it is aimed at guys like me – existing role-players, a little older, with a little less free time – who have already encountered that knowledge.

      I don’t have the Fantasy Companion, but I do have the Fantasy Bestiary and the Fantasy World-Builder’s Toolkits and a number of the worldbooks – Evernight, for example. I’ve made a conscious decision not to use them in Irongrave, because I want the setting to grow organically from the actions and comments made by the players. That will save me an enormous amount of work, and it’ll be fun to see what they come up with.

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