One of the things I love about the early days of D&D are the stories about how creatures like the rust monster and the bulette were created. As the story goes, the early TSR crew had a bag of odd plastic toys, and they would snag one of these creatures and make up a monster to fit it (if you check out this video by Dorks of Yore you can hear Tim Kask talk about that and much more). That fits so well with my own early experience of D&D, where we made things up on the fly, or used things from sci-fi and fantasy culture as inspiration. Like most people who came to D&D in my generation, I certainly played a number of wizards named Gandalf and halfling thieves name Bilbo. And of course their associates, Gundalf and Balbo. I was super-creative when I was eleven years old, guys!
It’s one of the things I appreciate about the roll-out of 5e. They’ve kept things very simple and left a lot of the creation in the hands of the DMs and players. Looking at the long list of offerings available on Dungeon Master’s Guild, it seems many have taken the opportunity to do just that. I know my home-brew campaign setting of Cotterell wouldn’t have come about without 5e. Nothing in the books directly inspired my setting; instead, it was almost like the dearth of material for the game gave me permission to create some of my own. Of course no one needed to give me permission to create, and I could have made up material for any of the games I play. But when you have games with very well stocked setting material (Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, and so on), it can be difficult to overcome the inertia of those settings. I mean, I love Pathfinder’s Golarion setting. It has replaced the Forgotten Realms as my favourite published campaign world, and I wasn’t sure that would ever be possible. But aside from a bit of tweaking and adjusting to make the adventures better fit my players, there isn’t a lot for me to do to Golarion.
With D&D 5e, though, the field is wide open. While WotC has settled back in to the Forgotten Realms as their default setting, they seemed to have learned from the past and refrained from publishing a glut of Realms sourcebooks. So while it’s an option, it isn’t the overwhelming option. And for the first time in a long time I felt like I could maybe build something from scratch, put it in front of players, and see how that went. Cotterell is definitely a work in progress, but I’m very much enjoying the way it’s building itself out through player interaction. I feel like I get a chance to make my figurative rust monster again, and I like it.