I was inspired by this post about the Shared Map. I thought that in a group like ours that rotates through DM's having a common setting neutral world for the DM's to play in is a selling point. The goal here is to have the PC's shape the story, and the DM's to provide as the PC's adventure. It should be clear that we are not using a lot of what the West Marches suggests, just what we think will make our game better. Some of the key differences between our game and West Marches are:
-No severe death penalty. Ideally every time a PC dies the party will choose to raise him from the dead, but if for some reason a player wants to bring in a different PC, starting all over at level 1 is too much
-Marginally less freedom. Rotating DM's make it impossible to allow full freedom to do whatever, as it would be counterproductive for each DM to have an entire world build, and less fun for the DM's to know what the world holds when they are taking their turns playing.
-No restriction on Urban gaming. Our first city holds a lot of promise as a small urban adventure setting, and there is nothing to suggest that future sessions will not introduce even more intriguing locales.
We wanted a setting neutral place to game, one that everyone had access to. The most promising thing to do was to start our game in Fallcrest, the sample town at the back of the 4e DMG, and go from their. It was a little too explored out for us, so Colin wrote a fantastic alternate backstory for Fallcrest that I will post here:
Up until four centuries or so ago, the Moon Hills and the surrounding Nentir Vale were thinly settled borderlands, home to quarrelsome human hill-chieftains and remote realms of non-humans such as dwarves and elves. Giants, minotaurs, orcs, ogres, and goblins plagued the area. Ruins such as those on the Gray Downs or the ring-forts atop the Old Hills date back to these days, as do stories of the hero Vendar and the dragon of the Nentir.
With the rise of the empire of Nerath to the south, human settlers began to move up the Nentir, establishing towns such as Fastormel, Harkenwold, and Winterhaven. A Nerathan hero named Aranda Markelhay obtained a charter to build a keep at the portage of the Nentir Falls. She raised a simple tower at the site of Moonstone Keep three hundred ten years ago, and under its protection the town of Fallcrest began to grow.
Over the next two centuries, Fallcrest grew into a small and prosperous city. It was a natural crossroads for trade, and the Markelhays ruled it well. When the Sorrow descended and the empire of Nerath began to crumble about thirty years ago, Fallcrest saw its own share of troubles.
Maddened by illness and driven by famine, a fierce horde of orcs known as the Bloodspears descended from the Stonemarch and swept over the vale. Fallcrest’s army was defeated in a rash attempt to halt the Bloodspears out on Gardbury Downs. The Bloodspears burned and pillaged Fallcrest and went on to wreak havoc all across the Nentir Vale, until they too succumbed to the pestilence.
In the decades since the Sorrow, Fallcrest has struggled to reestablish itself. The town is a shadow of the former city; little trade passes up and down the river these days. The countryside for scores of miles around is dotted with abandoned homesteads and manors from from the days before the Sorrow. Once again the Nentir Vale is a thinly settled borderland where few folk live. This is a place in need of a few heroes.
It is a few key alterations from the default setting that make our adventure possible. The largest is the decades of isolation. Our PC's are likely the first adventurers the city has seen in 20 years. Things have changed. Maps are less reliable. Power groups have dissolved and new ones arisen. In short, the DM is free to create, and the PC's should be encouraged to explore what is new.
Character creation is standard, no real restrictions on race or class (though players choosing a class not explicitly stated as having a resident population will need some reasonable explanation why they are in Fallcrest). 2nd level characters with 1st level equipment (mostly because at this point we had played 3 or so 1st level sessions and it was silly to expect that many more). 22 point buy or standard array. Players submitting backstories prior to the 1st session would get a magic item suited to their past.