New characters arrive at the Republic of Makrinos after a perilous months long sea journey, escaping from the corrupt and oppressive “Inchoate Empires,” where countless kingdoms and empires do constant battle for control, where monsters have been killed off or driven underground, and several peoples are either hidden in small isolated enclaves or have been driven to extinction altogether. Players are free to make up any reason for this trip. These lands are noted for their arrogant belief that they are the center of the world with various competing so-called “superior” cultures. The denizens of places like the Republic of Makrinos just hope that they remain too small and much too far away to be of more than a passing interest to those in power in “the Empires” (as they frequently refer to them). Makrinos is where people go to disappear and make new fortunes.
This premise allows PCs to have nearly any kind of background and backstory they want back in that part of the world with the understanding that the game will never go back there. It will never be detailed beyond what the player writes for their (hopefully brief) backstory. It will remain ambiguous and capacious in relation to where the game’s events take place. The campaign is as much about adventuring in a new place as it is learning about it and creating a new life there. In other words, there will never be any maps of the Inchoate Empires and the only “lore” about it will be whatever players come up with to motivate their characters (if such a motivation is even necessary).
This is not to say that no elements of their past will re-appear during gameplay. For example, in one of my current campaigns characters have had some connection to their previous lives to varying degrees, despite leaving “the Empires” behind. One character came to this part of the world seeking to find his estranged husband, who turned out to be a recurring villain, having set up a criminal network in this new part of the world. Another is a tiefling, who has been on the run since childhood, as her parents eschewed the cultural expectations of that lineage. Now she has to figure out her place among the tieflings she has discovered in this new part of world who work to remain hidden from superstitious humans. Another, who took the Orc-Born Lineage (orcs have been extinct for nearly 20,000 years) has only recently heard news that there may be a surviving colony of his long-lost people deep in The World Below.
One element that connects the Inchoate Empires to the lands of Makrinos and beyond, is the concept of “The Free Peoples.” This ideological framework paints humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and even the mysterious elves and their descendants, as the “good people” who killed off the various dangerous monsters of the world and drove off or exterminated the “evil humanoids,” allowing so-called “civilization” to thrive. The existence of such “monsters” in other parts of the world are considered a sign of being backwards and “primitive,” though given their existence in Makrinos, such attitudes are relative and inconsistent in application.
This set-up serves two functions, 1) it avoids the need for an info dump regarding what the PCs already know about their environment. They are not from here, what is new to the player is presumably also new to the character and vice versa, and 2) those players already familiar with generic D&D lore are free to assume their character also knows it. Those are the stories shared about various monsters and peoples. None of the assumptions of that lore are necessarily true, however. Furthermore, such lore frequently has an ideological underpinning bolstering the self-serving image of the so-called “Free Peoples.” Adventurers might be shocked to meet their first friendly troll, for example.
As such, the only backstory required of player characters is a reason for leaving their homeland behind and for never returning there.
The Republic is named for the large island it occupies. Makrinos sits beyond tumultuous oceans to the distant south and east of the Empires, situated at the northwestern edge of a sub-tropical archipelago. The democracy founded a little over 300 years ago from the fractured and chaotic remains of the western edge of the long fallen Sulouise Empire and built up over the generations by refugees from the Inchoate Empires that have risked everything to arrive in various waves over time. It only has intermittent contact with the “Empires” through trading vessels and those willing to risk the dangerous journey to bring people and goods to its swampy shores (a good number of which might rightly be called pirates). It has a senate made up of “Peers” who stand for election and is ruled on the local level by prefects and bailiffs.
Makrinos and the east is a land of adventure, where there are still “monsters” and some living vestige of the peoples driven away by the so-called Free Peoples. Only the great distance and unpredictable seas keep these lands from being subsumed into the turmoil and instability of the Inchoate Empires. And it because of that distance that the Republic has become a magnet to exiles and runaways, who by dint of ethics or consequence of misdeeds need to find a new home and a new start.
You can read more about the Republic of Makrinos and the D&D campaigns set there by clicking the links below:
Meta-Origins of Makrinos
I developed this setting as part of my preparation for running D&D 5E after a 10-year break from running the game. Before that I ran all my 2E and later 3E games in Aquerra, a homebrew I started developing in 1989 with the advent of 2E, but did not want to convert to 5E after all the work it took to convert it to 3E. Instead, I took a small corner of that world that I had hardly ever used or developed very much, changed its name and context, and came up with Makrinos. As I mention above, more than anything I wanted to avoid the feeling that I had to present players with a ton of backstory and lore as context for running a character here. Instead, they would discover the world as their character did.
That said, I still kept some elements that I like in any D&D game I run. For example, since lizardfolk have long been a large part of my games, I replaced Dragonborn (which undermine the mystery and majesty of dragons by dint of their very existence) with them. I also took this opportunity to make some changes I had long considered, like getting rid of the “half” races (half-elves and half-orcs are now “Fey-Touched” and “Orc-Born” respectively and use different rules – see HOW I RUN IT #5). I also used the opportunities to eschew the language of “races” altogether and now used “Peoples” or “Lineage.”
There are probably place-names you might recognize in the crude map of Makrinos above. That is because I am a strong believer that good DMs steal liberally from any available source. Every homebrew I have ever made, for example, has had a “Saltmarsh” because I love those original modules, and my plan from the beginning with 5E – before I even knew Ghosts of Saltmarsh existed – was to run the classic modules Ghosts of Saltmarsh is based on. Similarly, how could I resist the idea of a city built in the inert caldera of a volcano called “Cauldron?” So I lifted the name and basic idea of it from the “Shackled City” adventure path despite the fact that I have never read any of those adventures.