I haven't posted here in a while because I haven't been DMing for a while -- we added a friend of a friend to our gaming group and aside from being an awesome guy, he really wanted to run, which was fine with everybody else. So we've been doing a D&D 3.5 campaign based on the original Planescape boxed set setting, which has been pretty great. I've enjoyed the experience of being a player quite a bit, although my current character incarnation can't speak (I'm controlling a shield guardian), so that's put a bit of a damper on the experience in the sense that I spend a fair amount of each session gesticulating (I don't really have facial expressions either).
However, he's going to be out of town during the month of October, so I've got a specific timeframe to light a fire under my ass in terms of the doodles that I've been making and the half-baked ideas that I've been rolling around in the DMing part of my brain.
As a good example of how that portion of my brain works, I've got a lot more worked out in terms of the cosmology of the world than the immediate environment in which the player will start. Big Picture: Dying Earth-style world, being a cube-shaped planet, which, thanks to a discussion in the comments of another blog, will still have a spherical atmosphere, meaning that each face of the cube will have a habitable circle, surrounded by icy void (also meaning that all outside borders of the world will be arctic-style ice floes/sheets, which is pretty cool). Because I'm a nerd, the land masses on each face will correspond to pips on a regular six-sided die. The PCs are going to start on the 1-pip face.
The "pip" is actually a halo, a ring of land surrounding an inner ocean, accessible only on the western side of the ring, which is a massive archipelago. It used to be a solid mass of land until some sort of cataclysm, thousands of years in the past, annihilated the center of it, creating the inner sea and throwing up a circular mountain range that separates the outer portion of the ring from the inner. The civilization that was destroyed in this event was a Hyperborean/Morning Culture super-advanced magic-using culture -- the ruins they left behind in the now-civilized portion of the word (i.e. the outer portion of the ring) have been completely pored over/cleaned out/destroyed, meaning the only places that they still exist are in very inaccessible areas OR inside the mountains; however, everything inside the mountains is Weird and Dangerous to the point where nobody lives there and is accessed only by foolhardy treasure-hunters (obviously very The Zone from Roadside Picnic as well as a bunch of other sources).
There's a second layer of destroyed cultures in that the north portion of the ring (where the PCs will start) was where a large Empire flourished until about a 100 years ago, when it also was mostly destroyed in some sort of magical event that blasted flat the mountain range to the south, creating a new Weird Zone that split the empire in half (Red and Pleasant Land is now inside this zone, as well as a bunch of other stuff). The PCs start on the east side of this, on the old frontier of the Empire, dominated by mostly-wilderness, one large free city (Vornheim) and the frontier of a burgeoning Empire to the east (largest city there being Marlinko). The Black Isle is roughly north. The painting that allows access to the Maze of the Blue Medusa is in Vornheim.
(Yoon-suin is to the south-east, along with some other stuff, including my own city-state-dungeon, The City Infinite, which actually exists in three separate spots in this world; that's another story entirely.)
So, basically, it's a bunch of adventure leads that leverage, heavily, a bunch of existing content that is both really really good and more importantly, already in existence, because I've found that having a Real Job and Two Small Kids means that you really have to be realistic about how much time/energy you're really going to have to come up with this stuff and it turns out that it's very freeing to allow yourself to build large tapestries and then allow people who are good at this stuff to provide you with mass to fill things in.
To get down to brass tacks, I'm going to have to sketch out a beginning town, which will be relatively small, at the border of a large wood that lies between the plains where Vornheim sits and then an ex-Imperial port town on the coast that exists as a trade node between whatever ships make it along the coast from the west and east and then the Black Isle to the north. First stab at the macguffin for getting things rolling is a strange earthquake that hit the forest a couple of weeks ago -- a scholar/noble/important person had sent his people from Vornheim to investigate the source of the earthquake/what it might have potentially uncovered and they have not returned/disappeared. The important personage is now reduced to sending money/a plea to the local burgher to hire whoever they can scrape up to try and figure out what happened to the original group.
System: 5e, with some tweaks.