After the brief overview of the History of the Mage War, my players will need to know something about the world as their characters see it in the "present day" of the campaign. Although we will be using the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules, I am borrowing a bit here from the flavor of the 4th Edition default campaign setting, including the "Points of Light" term for the centers of civilization that remained after the Mage War or are beginning to growing in the wastelands between them.
The Fractured Realms of Today
With so much of the land devastated by war, and populations suffering everything from decimation to outright obliteration, many cities that had escaped destruction during the Mage War were abandoned. Coastlines had been changed, river courses altered, and many landscapes reshaped through the sheer power of the spells that had been unleashed. Wilderness reclaimed much of the old civilized lands. It took time to even begin to rebuild. Men and elves reclaimed the land where possible, although ruins remain to be rediscovered throughout the surrounding wild lands. Dwarves focused their efforts on rebuilding and expanding a few mountain strongholds, and expeditions to reclaim other halls have sometimes vanished without a trace.
At the present time, those efforts to rebuild are beginning to bear fruit. Although centuries of learning were lost, and lingering suspicions turned into new superstitions, signs point to a possible bright future despite the lingering pall of darkness on much of the world.
Many dangers are found in the wilderness between the remaining bastions of civilization, which are sometimes called “Points of Light.” Efforts are now being made to link the Points of Light, and these projects face numerous setbacks both mundane and arcane. Mountain ranges hold lost Dwarf fortresses, goblin tunnels, and monster lairs. In dark forests, strange beasts may be seen and evil magics linger. There are barren deserts, wind-swept plains, and rolling hills where nothing lives except nomadic people and wild animals. The dead are sometimes restless in the forgotten graveyards of abandoned villages. Although the settled lands are relatively peaceful, rumors flow in the marketplaces and taverns of evil emerging from the Underdark or the forgotten strongholds of dark powers.
Politically, the Points of Light are typically feudal city-states, but the old bonds of serfdom and fealty have largely been shattered since the Mage War, and their armies are largely devoted to defending against bandits and monsters rather than waging petty wars over aristocratic squabbles. Trade is fairly unrestricted, but the isolated nature of these points of light has been known to breed corruption in government or other structures of society.
In each major city, industry tends to be dominated by a guild system of master craftsmen and apprentices. The guildmasters by and large were quick to grasp the benefits of industry, so there is less of the old cottage industry that still persists in smaller villages. For adventurers, there are a few major guilds to note.
The alchemists guilds control production of most potions available on the market, and representatives often pay well for scarce ingredients.
The Fangscar Hunters are an independent lodge of adventurers who hunt wild animals and fierce monsters whenever they are rumored to emerge from the wilderness. Members have access to bounty boards where there may be rewards for anything ranging from a dire wolf stalking a distant hamlet to legends of the lairs of dragons.
There are several merchant guilds, some devoted to overland routes and others to seagoing trade. All of these often hire mercenaries to protect their merchandise.
Organized crime is said to not exist, but there are thief guilds in every city, and racketeering organizations exist wherever a local prohibition creates a black market. Where the local government is corrupt, organized crime and law enforcement go hand-in-hand. If the lord of the land is inclined to prohibit certain goods or services, then black markets are guaranteed to flourish. There is always a seedy underworld, but it is usually quite dangerous.
Bands of adventurers find employment across the land as guards for caravans, crews for ships, explorers seeking long-lost strongholds, warriors rooting out evil covens of dark powers, and hunters of monsters. Explorers seek the places where dragons may have hoarded treasure or lost cities hold secrets from the past. Mystery and adventure await. What do you do?
I intend to ask the other players what kind of campaign they want to run. I can borrow any number of archetypical bad guys if they want an epic campaign to hunt a major villain, or I can run one-shot adventures and random encounters. If you have been an RPG GM/DM before, what kinds of in-game guilds, organizations, and secret societies should I consider adding for the players?