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What the Heck is a "Shadomain"? - Creating an Old School Campaign

By Jason Campbell

I discovered TTRPGs with the Moldvay Basic version of Dungeons & Dragons in 1981 (I wrote about it here). We played through a lot of AD&D modules. Inspired by the World of Greyhawk Gazeteer I soon went about creating my own world, named - you guessed it - Shadomain.

The Map

As a teen I was already an aspiring artist, so I naturally began by drawing a map.

Shadomain Map

I drew this with markers on some coated paper had, it's 24" x 18". The continent was built around a huge volcano called "Mount Shadow". "Shadomain" was just a combination of shadow and domain. Yeah, I thought I was really clever at 15 years old. Scale must not have been important to me as that volcano's mouth looks larger than several large cities. It looks epic though, so it must have seemed cool. I made sure there was a forest, a desert, a valley and a lake. There's a lot of countries here, and I would go on to assign a government type to each country. This was the way the Greyhawk gazeteer worked, so I was using a similar philosophy. On that harbor to the lower right are a few cities including Tor City and Altburg, two names I made up which I still use in my campaigns today.

The Details

I loved writing about the details, eventually filling a large binder with my notes on geography, history, religion, NPCs and adventures.

Shadomain Binder

I wrote these notes throughout the 1980s for the AD&D game (now known as 1st edition). Looking at the cover it looks like I did these graphics later in the early 90s when I had access to a laser printer.

The depth of these notes is ridiculous - now I advise GMs to write details a session or two at a time - but I was young, excited and I just loved to create. Really there's nothing wrong with that if you have time for it. The risk is that much of what you create will never be used in game.

This is true, as my friends thought I was a great DM for creating all of this, even though hadrly any of it was used in game. Of course as teenagers everyone wanted to play cool characters, so it was in their interest to praise me for my DM abilities in the hopes that I would be the permanent DM.

This is part of my notes on the history of the elves in my world. As I mentioned I love creating so I wrote my own background, although I'd read Lord of the Rings several times by this point, Greyhawk had been published, and Ed Greenwood had begun writing about his Forgotten Realms setting in Dragon magazine.

The City of Altburg

So if that seems like a lot of work, you ain't seen nothin' yet. I had another sheet of 24" x 18" graph paper. On it I drew the City of Altbug, an entire large city housed within a single enormous castle.

Obviously I wasn't concerned with realism or physics, I was more concerned with making cool stuff. The city is divided into sections like the docks, the thieves quarters, merchant and government sections and more. Each room was numbered, and I had a section of my binder with a description (usually only a few words) of what each room was.

Again I would not recommend this, as inevitably the map was so large the players couldn't go room to room, but would ask "where's the stables", and we'd just say they went there.

Shadomain Now

So I've used the name Shadomain for most campaign worlds I've created since I was 15. It's a sentimental thng for me, which is why I named this site after it. Thanks for indulging me on my trip down memory lane!