From Ashes will be different from any D&D game you’ve played before. Your characters aren’t simply out to save the world – instead, they’ll be building it!
Illiatu, the world of this setting, has been devastated by a magical apocalypse known as the Scourging which poisoned the land, choked the sky with dust, and laid waste to the mighty empires of old. The few survivors dot the landscape in small villages constantly on the edge of starvation. Knowledge and literacy are all but extinct, though the secrets of the ancients may yet remain among their ruins. Those who remember how to use magic are almost unknown. You are among those few, and soon enough your characters will become leaders in this shattered world: their task, to carve out safe havens for their people, reclaim the glories of the old world, and discover the terrible secret behind the ancients’ fate.
This setting comes with a few new assumptions that run against the classic D&D paradigm. Most importantly, your characters will be proactive instead of reactive; instead of waiting for the Dark Lord to threaten the world, you will need to develop and execute plans of your own. Scarcity of resources will be a major threat to your characters – gone are the days when you could withdraw from the dungeon, walk to a nearby town, and purchase a longsword (or even food!). The nation-building mechanic means that you will have broader concerns than the typical wandering adventurer, but it comes with a power of its own: once their nation begins to train a population of spellcasters, the protagonists will have access to mighty ritual spells that can turn the tide of a war or resculpt the land itself. Finally, the characters and monsters you encounter in the wasteland will not be your run-of-the-mill beastie (as the average members of each race are all dead!); anything that has survived this long is likely quite nasty. Planning becomes necessary to survive these greater threats, and often running away is the best strategy.
The players’ party composition will be another significant departure. All player characters in From Ashes must be spellcasters of one flavor or another – long tradition holds that only those who wield magic may rule the nations of Illiatu. For our purposes, a “spellcaster” is any class primarily focused on spells or spell-like abilities. Core classes which meet this prerequisite are the bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, and wizard, but many others are available in other sourcebooks and one new class – the ur-thief – is presented below. While spellcasters are exceptionally powerful and versatile characters in D&D, this party comes with its own challenges – for example, your front-line fighters will have to be summoned creatures or NPCs you have hired.
On a metagame level, the all-caster requirement is intended to turn one of D&D’s greatest weaknesses – the fact that mundane classes become increasingly irrelevant at higher levels – into a core concept of the setting. Rather than try to address this problem with a revision of the entire system, we’ve decided to embrace it. Casters are rare, potentially world-shaking individuals in this setting, objects of fear and reverence to those who lack their talents. That’s not to say that the biggest troublemakers in 3.5’s ruleset – the so-called “Tier One” classes – are free to run wild. In Chapter Two you’ll find new rules for wizard, cleric, and druid spellcasting that rein in the advantage of potentially knowing every spell in the game and allow your characters greater individuality.
Running this campaign requires a DM who can improvise compelling adventures in response to the player’s decisions. Since no amount of published material can cover every ruined city and ancient tomb, you might be tempted to railroad the players back into familiar terrain or even veto some of the players’ more outlandish plans (“Sorry, magic doesn’t work like that.”). Resist this impulse! The campaign is a sandbox through-and-through, and if your players throw you a curveball, see what published material you can re-paint to fit. If the players try to find the ancient tomb of King Inbred IX but persistently ignore your plot hooks to search for the Crypt of Count Cee, consider using the dungeon map you prepared for the crypt and changing some of the names and décor. If all else fails, giving the players a ten-minute snack break should be enough time for you to brainstorm how the world reacts to their plans.
Now, it’s time to create your heroes…
Next chapter: Core Mechanical Changes