From the Ashes
I would prefer if the players were in a small town. Maybe 200 people population. A town in a rather lush area, at least one homestead needs to be sen-famous for raising horses and ponies. North of of the town, if you go east you reach the halfling border in about a half day. The if you go to the (rarely used) west fork of the north road you end up at the Gnome lands. No one goes there, as the treaties with the wood gnomes forbids anyone not of the gnome prince’s clan from crossing the border.
Humans are Typical D&D Humans – The human lands are more south and east, as well as across the east ocean. There used to be a human empire in this part of the world, but it was destroyed in a great war with the Gnomes and Dwarves about 1000 years ago. To the other races, Humans are just returning (200ish years) from where they were driven back to the Eastern lands and the southern coast. The Humans in this area are broken up into small kingdoms, arguing over the bones of the previous empire. Each kingdom is different and thinks it has the best claim to the empire’s throne.
Gnomes: Wood gnomes live in giant groves of shaped trees. The trees are hollow, but still alive. Rock Gnomes and Dwarves share mountain kingdoms far to the west, on the other side of the Halfling lands. Gnomes are obsessed with Law, to the point they worship it. Gnome “princes” really means “He who reads the law”. Gnomes in general are on good terms now with most other races, as long as they stay out of the very rigidly defined boarders of the Gnomish principalities. Cross the border, and they have the right to impound your goods and imprison or kill you. Oh, and you better read any contract a gnome gives you, as they will hold you to the exact letter of it. The Law is the Law is the law, and the law is Gnomes. Any gnome found outside the principality is either a Trader (in large groups), a messenger or a Banned Gnome, one that failed to keep his word for any reason and has been tossed out.
Halflings Known for having intense wanderlust when they are young, followed by an intense desire to build a home and not wander when they old. It’s kind of a joke amongst the other races, especially the elves, that a young Halfing can’t sit still. Most races like them, but never trust a wanderling to stick around and finish anything. They do NOT get along with Gnomes due to boarder issues.
Dwarves / Rock Gnomes: Dwarves are very uncommon. In General, they are a very warlike people. Rock Gnomes and Dwarves are a single society, where the Dwarves provide the fighting, protection and physical labor (smithing, etc) for the more slender and frail Rock Gnomes, who do the farming, record keeping, banking, etc. The Dwarven kingdom took in the Rock Gnomes when they were driven out of there homelands by the Humans. Everyone says this lead to the war that wiped out the human empire. Dwarves Drink, Fight, Live hard and Loud. Rock Gnomes are more quiet by Dwarven Standards, but would still be very very loud and boisterous by Halfing or Wood Gnome Standards. Dwarves tend to Chaotic Good.
Elves: The Elves are in retreat from all the races. Almost all the other races are far too wild and rushing for the taste of the high elves. The Wood Elves like the solidness of the Wood Gnomes, but don’t’ care for the way the wood gnomes force the trees into shapes, preferring the more natural growth.
Dragonkin – From the far north, a very rarely seen race. They send out “tribes” of young every few years to explore the world. Each Tribe is given a specific goal or location go to. Something the government wants to know about or stop, etc. Those that complete the goal and return are allowed to vote in the parliament. Youth are not forced to go, but if they want to have a voice in the government, they have to.
I know I’m forgetting things here.Anyway. My adventures will revolve around a organization devoted to keeping the world from another massive war. Everyone thinks the last one was due to the humans and the Rock Gnomes, but it actually was due to small piercings in the Prime Material plane. These manifest as small flakes of Rock or Glass. Every 1000 years or so, the prime material plane moves through an “asteroid cloud” of planar debris. This causes small holes to appear between the prime material and various other planar worlds. When one opens to a bad place, say the plane of Chaos, evil or nightmare.. insanity can seep out and take over large numbers of people. There are at least 2 different organizations devoted to finding and closing these rifts.
The players need to start out in a small village. Depending on what classes and races will change things a bit, but they will be pressed into service with the constable when someone starts stealing apples from a nearby farm. Say they are all in trouble because the PCs are young and bored, looking for things to do and getting everyone frustrated by playing pranks, etc.