Phaemorea: A Classic Setting for Dungeons & Dragons

Adapted from
by Kieran Brannan and Ryllandra Rose

Phaemorea is a classic High Fantasy genre game world designed for the classic BEMCI Dungeons & Dragons rules, however it can easily be ported into any version of Dungeons & Dragons , or with a little more tinkering, any system that supports high fantasy. It is designed as a new entry level world for beginning players, as well as an alternative world for older players who want to experience D&D in a new way, without losing any of the charm of the old way. References will be made to 1991 edition of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

Why BECMI Dungeons & Dragons?

There is a misconception that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is the advanced version of Dungeons & Dragons. However, D&D does have an easy-going loose system that is very easy for a new player to pick up. There are less numbers to worry about, less jargon and less confusing options. Basically, you can take a new player though level 1 character development in five minutes and have them ready to play. Once playing, the rules are amazingly easy to pick up.

BECMI D&D still has all the depth of AD&D and D&D3.0+, it's just that that depth is introduced more gradually. This allows a new player time to learn each new option as they advance their character. In short, AD&D and D&D3.0+ gives an information dump at level 1, while D&D is designed to level up the complexity as the character levels up.

Weapon Mastery os one of the best ways of representing weapon skills in a D&D style of game. Weapon Mastery doesn't just give a modest bonus to hit and damage; Weapon Mastery gives every weapon a unique identity. In AD&D and D&D3.0+, a thief will usually use a sword for that little extra damage. In BECMI D&D, weapon mastery grants a dagger an increased chance of causing double damage and the ability to throw it further. AD&D and D&D3.0+ has tried to give weapons more interest through the use of Feats and special moves, but they are all fairly generic. Some weapons like staff, spear and warhammer have remained comparatively useless weapons in AD&D no matter what the edition.

AD&D and D&D3.0+ has only recently given fighters any love. They were always just the boring characters you gave to new players because they were easy to play. Even when 3rd edition came out and gave them Feats, they still never really found a way to shine over a decently leveled mage. In D&D, not only can fighters harness the weapon mastery system better than any other class, they also have some amazing options that can turn them into powerhouses. In BECMI Fighters are interesting characters - they have more class options than other classes when they reach 9th level. They can be a politically motivated land owner, or they can choose one of three detailed traveling fighter types, including the Paladin, Avenger or Knight.

BECMI D&D has a certain lightness about it. It's made to have some fun, as is clearly evident by book releases like 'The Book of Wonderous Inventions' or even the module 'Earthshaker'. These works take the high fantasy world to a strange new place, where Black Puddings are put into dishwashers, or Fire Elementals are bound into steam boilers. Many games try for a High Magic genre, but D&D completely embraces magic as a fully integral part of the world. It doesn’t take itself seriously unless you want to play it that way. The default setting is 'fun', while most other systems have a default setting of 'real'. In this regard I believe classic D&D is all about the classic RPG experience, where people are playing to unwind and just have a good laugh with friends.

Having a system that doesn’t keep forcing you to look up things in the rulebook allows for a more immersive play experience. It is very much story focused, and every piece of source material supports the concept of being creative and making your own world. Most purchased adventures introduce entirely new monsters created just for that adventure, which you can then use elsewhere of course. The Gazetteers introduce aspiring GMs to the idea of creating their own player races and character classes. Forgotten Realms has been out for so long now, and has had so much source material produced, that I now find the world constrained, not expanded.

What better way to retire a character than to have them basically win the game? In D&D players are invited to strive to reach immortality and become a god. Let’s face it, the amount of heroic stuff you would have done to reach level 36 should have gained you some notice among the gods, right? The quest for immortality allows for truly epic story telling on a grand scale, as the only way to reach immortality is to do the impossible. But let’s say you make it, you become one of the gods. What then? Well, D&D has rules for that. Now, as an Immortal, you start over as a lesser deity striving for power. What makes this concept really exciting is that if your group has played for long enough, your characters can truly become a part of the world.

BECMI D&D does not have multi-classing. Also, any race other than human is represented as a class of its own. So there are no dwarven wizards and not every halfling is a rogue. In BECMI D&D, there are over 40 skills to choose from, and while you might only start with 4 or so, you will get more as you level. Like the new 5th edition, these skills are simply areas of competence, and are not burdened by complex point allocation or indepth record keeping like they were in 3rd edition.

Understanding Good and Evil

BECMI D&D only has three alignments; Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. While the rules indicate that lawful characters tended to be good, it is not automatic. AD&D and D&D3.0+ on the other hand breaks alignment into two parts, their disposition towards law and chaos, and their morality in regard to good and evil. On the surface, the AD&D and D&D3.0+ system appears to be the more detailed and superior system.

We like to think that morality is a constant, that what we believe to be morally right and wrong is patently obvious. The concept of good or evil is generally defined by morality. A person of good morals is a good person, while those who act in a manner counter to decency is evil. Yet, this perception is heavily coloured by the concept of Law and Chaos. Laws are usually based on what a society considers morally sound.

Prior to 5th edition, AD&D and D&D3.0+ required Paladins to be Lawful Good. This made the Paladin a righteous knight in shining armour who always held to the letter of the law while doing nothing but good and noble deeds for the people. Paladins are holy warriors of the church, so it’s important that they be Lawful in order to adhere to the strict tenants of their religion. However, by attaching Good to the alignment requirement, it made the holy church knights completely inappropriate for a great many of the religions.

BECMI D&D only requires that a Paladin be Lawful. While most Paladins are also Good, what is more important is that they obey the church. Chaotic Paladins are instead called Avengers and, while similar to the Lawful Paladin, they are a different type of character. This distinction allows for holy warriors from entirely chaotic religions to still be represented.

The key thing to understand about good and evil, is that good is mostly a matter of perspective, and that perspective is generally based on culture. Most people who act within the law of the land tend to consider themselves good people. Only truly aberrant people would identify as being evil, and they would consider themselves evil because of their complete disregard of cultural law. So what if the law of a culture demands acts such as murder, sacrifice, slavery and other base acts? Does it make the culture evil? The answer is both complex and simple. Good and evil are a matter of perspective, and its definition changes depending on the company you keep.

In Phaemorea the Empire of Getica is a classic evil empire based on undeath, fear and dark sorcery. Yet Getica is a Lawful empire, perfectly entitled to field Paladins. Failure to follow the Law can get you killed, or worse. Therefore, in order to be a lawful person, and by cultural definition a good person, then you would commit harm against others if you are required to. Even the cold blooded murder of an entire family might be considered a good act in Getica, even though most other cultures would claim it was entirely evil.

So how would you record your Alignment as a good citizen of Getica? In AD&D and D&D3.0+ you might say you are Lawful Evil, but does that accurately account for people who genuinely love and support their community when that love and support might mean killing a child in its sleep? Lawful Evil fails to encapsulate the scope and breadth of morality, and how each culture contains a myriad of complex moral nuances. However, the Classic D&D system would simply label any good citizen as Lawful, fully understanding the complexities of morality and its relation to the interpretation of good and evil. In fact, any good citizen in any land is simply Lawful, while those who care nothing for the laws of the land, or those who think everything in life is happen-stance, are Chaotic.

Take the humble Protection from Evil spell. In BECMI D&D the spell description clearly indicates that evil is not a function of Alignment, but of moral stance. Someone of opposing moral views would be considered evil. Therefore, a Protection from Evil spell cast by a cleric of Getica should work fine to ward off a noble Paladin of Solmani, and vice versa. When the water becomes muddied by similar but differing moral values, the measure of good or evil is based more on intent.

A more simplified approach would be to look at things defined as evil by the system as things of an entropic nature, while things which preserve life are good. So, level draining undead are always evil, while those devoted to healing and caring for others are good. This however often falls short of helpful. Healing someone so they can withstand more torture is actually evil, while using a Cause Wounds spells for a merciful death is actually a good act most of the time.

In the end it comes down to the GM making a judgement call. Often it’s very clear cut, but when in doubt compare the intent of both individuals and decide if someone is good or evil based not on a spell description or your personal moral code, but on the difference in moral codes between the characters involved. It's entirely possible that two people can effect each other with the same version of Protection from Evil, simply because from their individual perspective, their opponent is evil.

BECMI D&D grants all peoples of the land an alignment language. It further goes on to describe that if for any reason you change your alignment, you forget the previous alignment language and acquire the new one. Other than saying "it's all magic", one cannot find any way to justify how alignment languages are meant to work sensibly. Therefore, in Phaemorea alignment languages have been replaced with regional languages.

Guide to Phaemorea

Phaemorea is a fairly typical high fantasy world. The world is designed principally for use with the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, however Phaemorea and adventures set within can easily be adapted for use with any edition of Dungeons & Dragons or any high fantasy setting. Likewise, modules designed for classic D&D, especially those for the Mystara or Blackmoor world settings, could easily be slotted into the Phaemorea setting with little to no alteration.

Magic is in regular use, though not so common as to not be special. Technology is roughly equal to that in the later middle ages, with steel armaments and complex stonework. Mechanisation is gaining in popularity with cogs, winches and pulleys coming into regular use among industry. Alchemy is generally used in conjunction with magic, but the use of alcohol, acids and toxins are all well understood by practitioners. Gunpowder and other forms of explosives might exist, but such things are exceedingly rare and not in use, and with magic being common there is little drive to develop the technology.

Magic is often used in conjunction with technology, as a simpler and cheaper method to achieve things. So rather than develop devices like the steam engines of the industrial age, wizards might use magical horses to draw a carriage. Monsters and their unique effects are often employed, such as using a Black Pudding in the sewers of Manakata, or Salamanders being used for home heating. Such extravagances are purely the domain of the wealthy and powerful.

Thanks to the establishment of organised guilds, ‘Adventurer’ is an accepted full time occupation, with adventurers seen by many to be heroes. Not everyone welcomes adventurers though, with some people seeing them as a necessary evil while despising the arrogance and concentration of wealth and power that adventurers represent. So while the common folk generally admire the adventurers because they provide living examples of the common person rising to positions of power, those with power sometimes see adventurers as political tools and threats to their power base.

Humans are the most common race, with four distinct human races known in this part of the world. In most cases there is peace between the humans, elves and dwarves, though that peace is often strained to breaking point. Other sentient races such as orcs, goblins and gnolls are generally seen as beasts and outlaws, rarely accepted within towns.


There are four main human variants native to the local area. The first and by far the most plentiful are so widespread they are not known by any cultural identifiers. They are pale skinned Caucasian, of smallish build, averaging a height of around 170-175cm tall.

The Bungara, known more commonly as the Painted People, seem to be a distant variant of the common human. Their skin is darker, most likely because they live in a harsh region where a more ruddy complexion increases the chance of survival. They also have a slightly different eye shape not entirely dissimilar to the elven eye. The similarities indicate a shared racial heritage with the common human, but with strong indications their genetics are moulded by some other shared ancestor as well.

Deep in the south are the Salurians. They are a much larger, heavy set people. Caucasian, but with a more tanned natural skin tone. Their faces, with strong jaw lines and broader features, have a more masculine look than the waiflike thin faces of the common men. They average 185-190cm tall and have a wide variation in hair and eye colour.

In the south west of the main continent are the people of Manakata. They are a tall people, similar in height to the Salurians, but they have dark skin, hair and eyes. They have pronounced features, such as high cheek bones and an aquiline nose. They have long limbs and dextrous hands. Muscular development tends to be lean but healthy.


The Elves, Dwarves and Jhan (Halflings) are all as described in the core rules for appearance and basic physiology. Their cultures do vary from the classic rules as described later in this document.

All Demi-humans have an inherit distrust of humans, a distrust learnt from past events, but they are of a mind to work with humanity rather than against it, preferring the path of peace over a war they cannot hope to win. The breeding rate of humans is simply too great, which has forced the Demi-humans to cut out a niche for themselves to hold. What they do have, they guard most vehemently.

The Beast Races

Among themselves they call themselves the First Races, claiming they were among the first people of the world. The title applies to a wide range of races who choose to defy most forms of civilisation in preference to their natural savage roots. The races include orcs, goblins, ogres, gnolls, kobolds, lizardmen and many more sentient peoples who now hide away in lairs or live day to day raiding each other or the human nations.

Only in the Garter States do these misfit people find any welcome, and even then only in places. Some took part in the Age of Jackals as invited bandits.

Brief History of the World

In times now largely forgotten, the world was ruled by an ancient race of beings known as the Phaemoreans. Little is known about these people today, other than that left in shattered ruins which indicate a once thriving civilisation. Scholars believe the original Phaemoreans tore the world apart in some form of cataclysm, reshaping it into the world known today. In the wake of that great cataclysm, the current races began to repopulate the world.

While the humans of the south remained fractured, those who went to the north had fewer opponents. A great warlord rose among them, a man called Getica. Getica unified the fractured states and established the Getica Empire. Driven by a lust to rule over everything, Getica called upon unknown powers to raise the dead, adding to his troops both with his own dead, and the dead of his enemies.

Getica was mostly interested in the lands already claimed by human folk, but it didn’t take him long to recognise the potential threat posed by other races, as well as the rich resources they held. The Dwarves suffered most of all; Getica lusted after the metal of the dwarven mines, wanting it for arms and armour for his massive war engine. Directing tireless zombies and incorporeal undead, Getica tunnelled down to the lower halls of the dwarves. Getica displayed the true depth of his evil, and disease proliferated in the stale dead air. As people died of disease, they would rise again as undead to fight their own kin. The dwarves turned to their gods and asked for help but they did not answer. In disgust, the dwarves turned from the gods forever and did the only thing they could do; they fought a breakout action and fled at a massive cost of life.

The spread of the Getica Empire had reached the borders of the Kingdom of Solmani, already beset by refugees. However, many armies had fought a retreating action. Those warriors left were all fierce fighters, veterans of many battles and filled with a rage and desperate need for revenge. The two armies met, one each side of a fortified river. Under a veil of magic, Getica concealed an army of undead beneath the water. Getica himself rode across the bridge, leading an elite force of his most devout warriors. The Solmani retreated to the walls of the Solmani capital. Yet the armies of Getica never came. Rumours later say the battle was the crowning achievement that opened the way for his rise as a true immortal. Years passed and the river remained the border between Getica and the rest of the world. The River was renamed World’s Edge, because to most of the world, there was nothing of worth on the other side of that river.

Thundercliff remained the heart of the southern half of the Getica Empire, an unassailable fortress perched atop a rise at the edge of the sea. Seventeen captains took ships to those walls, plus one more ship filled with freed slaves calling themselves Freemen. Each captain had the same mission; enter the city and open the gates. Thundercliff fell in a single night and whilst the number of captains still left alive had been reduced to nine, and they divided the city up among themselves, each taking a section as their own, renaming Thundercliff to Forecastle. Slavery was abolished, partly because it was anathema to the free thinking brigands and partly because ex-slaves freed from Getica were willing to fight to keep the freedom they had regained. Eventually the last few holdings of southern Getica fell. The Garter States were born, and a new age of peace returned.