Thursday Feature – Merging Worlds and Maintaining Game Balance

Author: Keryth987

So, I’ve been asked by multiple people how I merged so many Modern Fantasy worlds with the DresdenVerse (the universe of the Harry Dresden Novels for those of you not in the know) in my Shadows Over New York Campaign. The simplest answer is: practice, practice, practice.


I’ve done this many times. Merging worlds and creations together is what I enjoy doing. I’ve been gaming for a long time now. My many years old D&D Campaign World is Forgotten Realms based, but I’ve borrowed from all kinds of things including Willow, Lord of the rings, John Carter of Mars, even Star Trek. And it works. Some may raise their eyebrows at the idea of a Klingon Empire in a High Fantasy campaign, but, if you strip away the technology and leave them with their unique swords and daggers, you have a fun race to play as an adventurer. And my D&D Campaign World has gotten even larger as two GMs in my group have added in their own campaign worlds; creating a unique and humongous melting pot for us to play in. (For those curious, check out the Chornalth Adventures Site).

But I am drifting away from the point. How do you go about keeping balance in a campaign where things are thrown into a blender and it’s put on mix? Well, since it is the one I know best, I’ll use my Shadows campaign as an example.

Step 1: Choose your Base World


So, where do you start? Decide on a Base Setting ; be it The Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhwak, Golarion, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or in the case of Shadows, The DresdenVerse.

Then, think about what it is you like about that setting. Is it the small Pantheon of Deities available? Maybe it’s the secret (or not-so-secret) Organizations present? Or maybe it’s even the individual characters? Perhaps you simply enjoy the movies/TV Episodes and/or books set in that Universe. For Shadows, it was the DresdenVerse as a whole. The idea of a modern world that is oblivious to magic and the supernatural, but one in which all that exists.

Step 2: Choose and Manage Your Add Ons

Next comes the fun part! What else do you think would exist side by side with the Canon of your Base Setting and how could it work in the Base Setting? Some are easy. Slayers and Whedonverse vampires are easy to add to a Dresden Files Campaign setting. Klingons in The Forgotten realms? Takes a little more work, but sure. Go hog wild here. You can always cut things back or out in the final stages.

And this is the point where Obsidian Portal (OP) can come in handy. The Wiki structure of OP makes it easy to organize your thoughts. Make a page for the Base Setting, listing what you want to use, then create a sub-page for each thing you want to add and explain how it fits into your non-canonical version. (And if you want to make it pretty, I recommend Wolfhound’s Tutorials HERE at the bottom of the page). I have several works in progress on OP. If you’re curious, I would be happy to share the links.

Once you have your thoughts organized and know what you want to add, you need to trim it down some. When I first created Shadows, I knew I wanted to add Buffy, Highlander, Percy Jackson, and Shannara. I also had a bunch of other things that I thought might be neat. However, if I included it all, it would be far too much. The DresdenVerse and its feel would get lost in the mix. That’s the key, not only do you need to think of what works with your Base Setting, but you need to make sure the things you add do not overwhelm the Base Setting. You don’t want to lose what made you pick it in the first place.


For Shadows, this involved removing a lot of the Sci-Fi things I considered including. Visitors from “V”, Founders from “Star Trek Deep Space Nine” and others all were removed. Removing them from the setting does not mean you can’t still use these things; you just need to use them sparsely and in a toned down manner.

For example, while the Visitors of “v” were removed from Shadows, the party discovered in game that Diana (leader of the Visitors of “V”) was Rasputin ‘s partner in creating the Hellmouth in New York City. Now, in Season 1 of Shadows, this information was used merely as background. Diana and Rasputin had already succeeded in opening a Hellmouth in New York City, utilizing the catastrophe of 9/11. And prior to the beginning of the campaign, both had been defeated and were destroyed.

However, this tidbit of knowledge made for a more realistic universe. More on that in a future article. The Important part to remember here is that removing something doesn’t eliminate it completely. You can simply relegate it to some neat tidbit to be discovered later, or something you bring in to a future campaign.

This is the most difficult but rewarding step. You’re taking the canvas of your Base Setting and adding things you like, and making them mesh. Always remember two things when doing this step.

  • Do not overshadow your Base setting,
  • Make sure everything balances with the Base Setting.

For Shadows it helped that I was using a flexible rule-set that already had created plenty for the DresdenVerse. Everything I made I balanced against the existing content, from templates to powers to enemies. And always in the back of my mind was how this and that fit in with what was already established. And that is what you must remember. Nothing you are adding can overshadow what already exists. When I added Immortals and Slayer to Shadows, I had to make sure that their powers and abilities balanced against the Wizards and Vampires of the Dresden Files.

Step 3: Bringing it All Together

The final thing is to always be thinking of possible scenarios (adventures, campaigns, etc) that you can run in the new version of your setting. This will help with meshing things further together. This is how Shadows’ opening adventure came about. While I was meshing things together I kept thinking of what to have the player do. As it turned out, this involved investigating the murder of the main character from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and discovering who stole his power. That in turn led to my Main Villain of the entire Campaign.

And that’s pretty much it. It can be a fun process, but the real reward is when you run a campaign in the new setting you have created and watch your players immerse themselves in the story and in the world. So, good luck and good gaming!

Keelah Se’lai


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