I had a few design goals for the world.
Make it semi-believable.
Yes it is fantasy, but I am always attracted to setting that feel more grounded in reality. It lets the fantastic parts shine through, without becoming too much and err on the side of being whimsical. Shudders.
Player bias is nuts.
I get how Halo from Halo: Combat Evolved is an ultimate badass and can slay the Covenant by the dozens at a time whereas the lowly marines that follow Halo around die very easily. How does your random dude in Call of Duty blast through hundreds of baddies without dying? What’s the justification for healing after keeping your head down for a few seconds? That like, totally would never heal your wounds. iT’s jUsT a GaMe. What a lame excuse. I want to explore something where there was a reason why your player could destroy dozens of foes without needing god-tier armor, plot or otherwise.
How are there so many foes for you to fight anyway? By all accounts it seems like most fantasy setting aside any resemblance of believability, probably because it’s just a game. If there was a goblin horde in the nearby forest why didn’t the local council draw up a militia and handle it?
In this setting, it is considered un-noble to bear arms.
It's an unfortunate evil that so many have to take up arms to make a living, but for the Lordeships and Reaches of the lands to them keeping the poor disenfranchised serves them better than shares prosperity. For you to be a Noble Lorde of the land is for you to put aside the barbaric practice of solving your own problems, and graduate to ordering others to do it for you. In this way, several things are accomplished for the setting.
There’s a reason for a constant influx of new characters, PC/NPC, protagonists and antagonists.
There’s always someone coming or going, and in a world with scarce resources most have to follow where the wealthy/noble entourages go.
There’s a reason for mercenary work.
Everyone has heard of the adventures that take place at the fabled land called Ashenreach. If you have courage to travel to the former Land of Giants there could be a big payout by the end of your adventuring career. To become a Lorde is a rare luxury seen in the world, and Ashenreach is the only notable place where new Lordes have been rumored to get their start.
There’s an endgame.
For most games I would think becoming a Lorde would be a goal. Becoming a Noble Lorde is probably for the more epic or grand-scale kind of game.
To be a Lorde is to command over detachments of troops, wielding the ultimate power in the land- man.
A Noble Lorde is one who anoints Lordes and is usually the ruler of a Reach. Reach being what they can control, and how far that control reaches. Very few yet powerful Noble Lordes are able to claim whole cities in their Reach. Many Lordes are required to pledge fealty before their anointment, lest they pledge for one of their rivals or worse- strive to become a Noble Lorde themselves.
While there are many Noble Lordes that seek to resolve conflicts between their peers peacefully, there are warmongers aplenty and always a fresh batch of mercenaries from the mainland to be recruited.
With the world’s resources being depleted, any scrap of precious materials can be worth a small fortune. Once you’ve earned the trust and respect from a Noble Lorde, it’s a short process to becoming a Lorde yourself. Normally a bribe or two will go a long way, and as such mercenaries that take dangerous risks in Ashenreach if that means more wealth.
For the upcoming ttRPG I'm creating for the setting, I wanted to implement a strategy game layer on top of the traditionally dungeon crawler experience. Think Mount and Blade, or DnD meets Total War. Without getting into the weeds, I believe there are ways to make that mechanics accessible for non-strategy game players and still satisfying to play as for seasoned commanders.
Becoming a Lorde will be the first step to commanding your own troops at a company level scale. I think this will be one of the components of the game that makes it truly unique, and worthwhile to at least try.
When I started thinking about this setting however, I was thinking less about the struggles of the civilized world, and more so what was happening beneath their feet. The Underdark and Ratten are the genesis of wants to create a whole new world other than just building off of the escape room. The first board game in the setting is just now off to the printers!