Chris Metzen and Mike Gilmartin are former Blizzard Entertainment executives who helped to bring the worlds of Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft to life. In 2020, after Metzen wrapped a 22-year stint at Blizzard, they announced a new company called Warchief Gaming. Now they’re ready to announce the company’s first project.
Together with lead developer Ryan Collins, a former game designer on Hearthstone, they’re turning Metzen’s homebrew Dungeons & Dragons campaign — one that began with his childhood friends in the 1980s — into a version compatible with the modern 5th edition of D&D. Warchief’s setting is called Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent. The first sourcebook, titled Worldbook: Lawbrand, will be brought to life through crowdfunding.
The modern incarnation of D&D takes place in the world of Faerûn, also known as the Forgotten Realms. It’s a world of high fantasy, filled with savage wilderness as well as bustling cities. Auroboros takes place in a world called Drastnia and is, by contrast, far more urban.
“Lawbrand is a confederation of urbanized trade cities,” Metzen said in an interview with Polygon. “There’s eight or nine of these trade cities, and they’re all kind of moved by this big new commerce. It’s almost like an industrial revolution.”
Key art for those trade cities shows bustling cities packed densely with houses and factories. Lights shine along delicate bridges as huge merchant sailing ships plow through the bays and down deep rivers between mountains. In one piece you can see the working class trudging home after a long day at the mill.
“All the races essentially live together in these big cities,” Metzen said. “The ogre neighborhood’s down here, the dwarves live over here, the humans are over here. We’re all working in the same factories, our kids go to the same schools, there’s an overarching church that kind of oversees everything and creates consistency and order in this new society.”
But lurking in the background of it all is a powerful magic powered by mystical tattoos.
“The Auroboros itself [...] is like a primordial force of creation,” Metzen said. “The more you use it, the more you step into this power that is apart from your actual class abilities. It starts to cause madness and death. It’s like the classic rock star thing — that Jim Morrison overdrive.”
Where regular 5th edition D&D campaigns can get bogged down in low-level fights, Warchief’s setting will give players incredible powers fairly early on. By tapping into this raw power, at least one player character in the party will be able to do incredible things. They could turn cities into stone, freeze entire oceans, or level mountains with the flick of their wrist. It will be up to the group’s Dungeon Master (DM) to roll with these punches.
But it will also be the role of the other characters at the table to deal with the aftereffects — and to help prevent one player from running away with the narrative.
“We’re including essays in the book, trying to anticipate some of the issues that can come up between players,” Metzen said. “‘Why does Johnny get all the attention as the serpent-marked character? What about me? I want to have compelling narrative.’ So we’re kind of going through all of these scenarios where the DM might find themselves dealing with those types of situations and providing guidelines of how to deal with the rest of the group.”
Metzen said that, more than anything else, he and his team are relishing taking his personal homebrew setting and turning it into something for the rest of the world to enjoy. But why not create a rules system to go along with it? Why choose to use modern D&D — or at least the portions of it that are open source and available to the public — as the basic building blocks?
“This whole idea came about from me and my friends building this world for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” Metzen said. “Throughout my life it’s felt like church. D&D is holy ground. It’s where we learn to imagine together. [...] Building this thing for 5e felt perfectly natural.”
The campaign for Worldbook: Lawbrand begins April 20. You can sign up for the mailing list on Kickstarter.