With my already long-time friend Gonzalo we once delved into the Zendikar world with D&D.
He mastered a great adventure that in true Zendikar style was a puzzle-heavy dungeon delve in an exotic land (Tazeem).
It stopped short of turning into a full campaign, because of defections of players and the impracticality of forums. But it was already starting to include a bit of Eldrazi in it. It was an element of Zendikar nearly impossible to ignore, even if it's been confirmed that they didn't originally belong to the setting, in the designers' view.
Some time later I took interest in the very D&D-derived 13th Age table-top RPG, and more than in the game itself, in its approach to role-playing and setting-building. The concept of Icons, the Non-Playing Characters with enough influence in the setting to become political forces, and the relationships of playing characters with these Icons, fascinated me.
So I went on to create the "Icons of Zendikar", and an incomplete but usable set of locations and story hooks to go with them.
I also kind of attached a few parts of our campaign story (especially the parts that actually never came to be played) into the story hooks, advancing a bit the whole story-line. Eldrazi where largely absent, mostly due to my personal dislike of them.
My dislike for Eldrazi is mostly due to a love for Zendikar: when you love something, you don't want to see it spoiled and ruined. Other than that, I also think they did them too well: they are really alien and it shows. And I don't like that. I would have liked them more if they would have been less alien, more Zendikari. But then their purpose would have been defeated, so I still "accept" them. I just prefer not to deal with them in role-playing.
Now Battle for Zendikar is coming, and with it a new wave of excitement and will to role-play into Zendikar (shared with Gonzalo!), but also a new wave of Eldrazi madness.
So this post will be a brain-storming about how to make a cool adventure set in Zendikar, even in the Battle for Zendikar times, but without much influence of the Eldrazi.
"I search for a vision of Zendikar that does not include the Eldrazi."
Wall of Omens flavor text
So where in Zendikar could we have an Eldrazi-free or Eldrazi-light experience?
I have multiple answers.
We know from the story released so far, and the lands artwork, that Tazeem still has pockets of uncontaminated nature. But it's basically a continent under siege, so it should be largely excluded.
Bala Ged, one of my favorite continents (actually defined as a sub-continent of Guul Draz, a bit like India is a sub-continent of Asia), has been completely destroyed. And apparently, Sejiri was destroyed as well, I guess being the continent from which Ulamog came out (but that's not canon, just logic because I wouldn't see the titan going there to destroy something, since there's little life anyway).
These leaves us with three continents: Murasa, Ondu, and Guul Draz.
Murasa: the "Retreat to Kazandu" option.One of the spoiled cards caught my eye and mind immediately: Retreat to Kazandu.
Guul Draz: the "Another Kind of Evil" option
Ondu: the "Sea-faring Adventures" option
The mainland of Ondu is not a very interesting place, and the description of it coming from the new dual cards doesn't sound similar to the one given with the old Planeswalker's Guide... There is probably some confusion among the designers themselves about what's in Ondu and what's on Murasa, because it seems like they regulary mix the two continents, in terms of environments, in particular regarding the "verticality of the landscape" (which I like to think to as a constant of Zendikar, actually!)
Other options remain!
- Bala Ged is still alive! - Bojuka Bay was such a hidden place that not even the Eldrazi found it...!
- Aerial Tazeem - The highest floating parts of the Vastwood are still safe havens, and Emeria could be the ultimate exodus target.
- Hidden Islands - After Jwar lie more islands that are somehow warded off from the rest of Zendikar, maybe thanks to the Strand of Jwar. Old isolated civilizations could be still living there as they used to before the very first advent of the Eldrazi, 3000 years before!
- New Continent! - Much like the above but bigger: the Zendikari explorers suck, and they hadn't mapped all of the continents yet!
- Underwater Sejiri - Sejiri is destroyed, but under its ice, an unexplored underwater world remains, where the Sejiri Merfolk are planning a counter-offensive, or maybe just want to remain hidden...
- AKOUM - Yes, I had forgotten about it, no, it wouldn't be a main option since the Eye of Ugin where the Eldrazi where released from is exactly here..!