World Building Guide. Part Five.

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If you have been following the series thus far, by now you already have the framework for a thriving developing world, for you and your players to explore and enjoy. We have some immersive villages and towns for our players to visit, as well as a wealth of history for them to draw from. Sooner or later however, our players will want their characters to do what adventuring is really all about. Dungeon delving, slaying evil, exploring ruins and battling foul and dangerous monsters are the bread and butter of the adventurer life, but most of these things will not be found just down the street from the local tavern. Your world will need a variety of locations and features that will provide this kind of stimulation to the players, and these special features are going to be one of the most important aspects of your world.

When I begin creating these kinds of locations I always go back to the history aspect first. Why do the ruins exist and what where they before ruins? How and why does this network of underground tunnels exist? was this man made or a natural occurrence? etc. Regardless of the origin, I need to be able to explain it. In the example of a network of underground caverns, how did they come to exist? Well most caves are caused by centuries of erosion, as water seeps through the cracks in the rock and the water absorbs carbon dioxide and creates carbonic acid. If we are talking about some old ruins that are hidden deep inside a forest, maybe centuries ago it was a reclusive temple of worship for elves. I need to have an idea of the origin of my feature in order to properly develop it and decide why this place should hold interest for my players. You should also be able to explain why others have not came across it before and ransacked the place, or if others have tried and failed. If they failed, then what was the reason for their failure. If a ruined temple was to sit on the outskirts of a forest and near a village, it is unlikely that it has not already been fully discovered and explored.

Lets look at the cave networks mentioned in previous parts of this series. The large expansive caves in the mountain side that have become home to goblin refugees. After the goblins were driven out by our king from the west, some of those that survived were driven into the mountains. Needing shelter they came across this cavern network. The caves were formed naturally over centuries as erosion worked at the rock, and now there is a network of winding natural caverns creeping down into the mountains. Our goblins no doubt met a few unpleasant creatures that may have previously taken up residence, but they managed to clear out enough of the caverns to feel somewhat safe. Perhaps they also found a good source of water in an underwater lake or river, where water had been gathering over time. We know that the mountains have forests at its foothills, so they have a source for wood and food very close by too. Over time the goblins have repopulated their numbers, and may have decided that the caverns (as they are) are not adequate, and they may have dug into the rock and created some additional tunnels and chambers. Also perhaps one goblin has risen to claim leadership and has crowned himself the new goblin king of this tribe. He may have wanted grander chambers, so the goblins (once again) dug out more goblin made tunnels, including some more secure chambers to house the treasures the king has begun to amass from raiding.

Taking all this into account I would begin drawing out my cavern networks, and making sure that I have room to expand them should I need too. I want my players to be able to explore my caverns and encounter my goblins. I also want them to have a few more challenges other than a goblin horde. Any other creatures I decide to put in my caverns have to be done so with several considerations. How will these creatures interact with the goblins? Are they friendly or allies to the tribe, or are they hostile?  If they are hostile creatures, then why have the goblins not killed them or vise versa? I decide to put a couple of trolls down one of the natural caverns. At first the trolls and goblins were at odds, and many goblins and a few trolls were killed. Overtime however, the goblins figured out that if they threw a portion of their prey and food down the tunnel where the trolls live, the trolls would leave them alone for the most part. The trolls get easy food out of the bargain and as their numbers are diminished, this seems like an amicable and safer arrangement. The goblins and trolls (while not allies) have created a sort of symbiotic relationship that works. Also should the caverns get invaded, the goblins know that a couple of enraged trolls could be a good asset for them.

I would like to include a trap or two in my caverns, but neither goblins or trolls really have the mental aptitude for creating any trap that would be considered remotely cunning, so instead I will lend from nature. Perhaps there is an underground river very close to the surface of one particular tunnel. The running water has been eating away at the cavern floor above, and it is now very thin and brittle. A couple of goblins fell through a few years ago, so the goblins know to stay clear of that tunnel and have created an alternative route around it. our adventurers would not know this however, and should they fall through, they would end up in the fast flowing underground river. This could lead to drowning, or maybe there are a few air pockets and by following the river maybe an entirely new special feature or location is discovered. As I sit here creating this dungeon and by following my own process, I am naturally creating options for additional content for my world. I began devising a trap, and in doing so created a viable new place for adventure for my players. I also want to examine the geographic aspects of my caverns. If water is dripping down we are going to see stalactites and stalagmites in some areas, as well as possible mold, mildew and fungus. All these aspects are to be considered.

This is one of the advantages in creating worlds in this way. Following the steps In this five part series will not only allow you to create a believable and vibrant world, but the process itself will do much of the work for you. Your world will grow and expand naturally through this process and as such will be far superior to anything you could have thrown together at random. In the first part of the series I told you you would never finish your world. Now I am sure you can see why. It is an amateur Dungeon Master that draws a map, scribbles in some forests, mountains and swamps and then draws dots on the map to represent towns etc without even considering how each and every feature would come to be there. So many people have asked me to look at their world and critique it. I hate doing this. Mostly because in my opinion the majority are not worlds, but just maps. They have no real depth and I can look at the map and see so many geographical anomalies or unexplained oddities. Often rather than critique it and hurt their feelings I will just say something like “That’s a nice map you have drawn there, hey can you tell me how come this lake is here in the northern hemisphere without any river or water source flowing to it? or why is this town here in the middle of no where, and how do its citizens survive?”. I point out a few floors in their logic and allow them to struggle to answer the questions for themselves. At this point they usually get the point.

A map is not a world. It is but a tool to help you to visualize the world. Maps are powerful, as they allow others to visualize what you already have imagined in your head. Never allow the map to lead the creation of the world, instead create the world and then map it.

I hope that you are willing to put in the work that is needed to create a real and believable world. If you do I can promise that you and your players will not regret it, and that your stories will be all the richer for it. If you do not want to do the work, or do not have time, then I seriously suggest you do not waste your time and more importantly the time of your players by coming up with some lame and inferior shell of a world. Go buy a published one and read it! As a player I expect my Dungeon Master to have put in the work and present me with a game session worthy of our mutually devoted time. If I see holes and gaps throughout his storytelling or if I can not get a feeling of immersion at his game, the odds are I will not be visiting his world or his gaming table again. Recently I have had discussions with a few acquaintances and viewers of our show Howreroll, and they talk to me about other games going on that they are or were a part of. We get complimented for how our games are run and often they ask why we can achieve and do what we do where others can not or do not. All I can really say is the more you do something the more you improve. I have thirty three plus years of gaming experience and thousands of hours put in at the gaming table. I have evolved in my craft and am very critical of my performance as a Dungeon Master. I also put in ten to fifteen hours of prep time for each of our bi weekly shows. Work yields reward. Sadly if you can not or will not do the work required, you will have a poor results and too many are willing to settle for that. I am not…….

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World Building Guide. Part 4.

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One of the most important aspects of creating a believable world, is developing a rich and colorful history. It is not enough to create a world, city or village and just expect your players to buy into it. If you look at our own world, you can see parallels in some current things, based on patterns from the past. Cultures grow and change, Forests thrive or vanish and even land masses change. While you may not have to go so in depth as to account for inches lost along the regional coast lines, it is important to create a past for your world.

So far in our series we have been developing a single region. The region contains a dozen or so settlements, a small mountain range to its north, a prominent forest and at least one river. The village of Newton and the town of Heraford (being part of this region) have witnessed many things over the years. So how did these settlements come to pass? what has happened in the region that has shaped the citizens way of life? Lets begin by once again making a few basic observations, and some notes.

Firstly I need to decide on a time line. lets say the current year is 2360. This would mean that technically I have two thousand three hundred and sixty years of history to account for. That sounds like a daunting task, but in reality it is not. History is remembered by its significant moments, and not the day to day actions of the people or the regular daily involvements of nature. What we have to decide is the key moments in our worlds history, and in particular (for now) the ones that pertain to our region. At this point I do not need to create every event in our time line, I only need to think about anything monumental and big enough to have had a direct impact on the region we are developing. I do not want my region to be too new, but at the same time it is clearly not one of the oldest and most developed regions in the world. I am going to make a few notes to help me flesh out a time line at this point.

I decide my region became settled in as part of a conquest. Six hundred years ago this region was populated by only a few tribes of humans and by many more goblins that it has dwelling in it today. I decide that the settlers came from the west, and as such my earliest settlements would have developed in that direction. The city that I placed in my region is in the west, so It makes viable sense that it began as a village six hundred years ago, and has grown up over time to become the city it is today. The settlers spread eastwards and it would probably take a few generations or so before they may have settled where Heraford is situated so maybe Heraford began as a village four hundred years ago. Newton is close to Heraford so maybe it was only one hundred years later when they began to settle on the banks of the river and create a village. This would put Newton being about three hundred years old as a village. Of course during this time they were also spreading North and Southward too. In making these notes I answer a few questions for myself, but raise new ones. For example why did the folk of Heraford branch out and create Newton? Well lets assume that as the original settlement village grew and expanded in the west, some pioneers wanted a chance to improve their lot in life so left and traveled east and settled in a new location. over time this happened again but each time they would not want to be too far from civilization, and the safety of being close to an established settlement. In this way Heraford was created. Discovering the river, and the forest, it was natural for the people to travel (almost a day) to gather, hunt and fish. However the forest being still very dangerous at that time would have dissuaded anyone from settling right next to it. Now over time as the goblins were driven north, and other unsavory creatures became less commonly seen, a few brave folk decided to set up an outpost at the edge of the forest and on the river to help facilitate gathering for Heraford. They would have had several skirmishes I am sure, and it would have been a tough start. Over time it would have became easier, and more and more people would end up staying at the outpost. This is how Newton started out and today it is a thriving village.

You see how this thought process works. If you examine your region and look at the land features, you will see reasons for why settlements should or should not exist. Also about now you may be looking back at some of the original decisions you made with placing settlements or land features and may wish to rethinks a few things. You may also rethink some of the relationships between towns. For example. It would seem sensible to me now that as Newton grew from an outpost that belonged to Heraford, it is logical that the small council in Newton answers to the Council in Heraford. I should also probably increase the number of families that have members in both locations too.

So far we have some local timelines started but we need more. We decided that the region developed and became civilized after a conquest. This would be a major Historical event so we need to flesh that out a little. Six hundred years ago clearly we had a conflict. Who (if anyone) ruled this region then? Who conquered it? Well as we already decided until then, this region was home to only a few human tribes, and many goblins, it would seem logical that the goblins were probably the closest thing to rulers that the region possessed. So it would become clear that the conflict was between some humans from the west, and the goblins. I am going to decide that this region was home to six different goblin tribes, and the largest of which had a king named Rablegash the mighty. The region to the west is large and a domain for human kind. It is (at that time) going to be ruled by Horace Vamillion the third. So six hundred years ago we can say that King Horace came into conflict with the goblin tribes and undoubtedly King Rablegash. Why did this happen would be my next question? I decide that the goblin tribes were growing, and tribal in fighting over territory was becoming more frequent. This lead to the tribes expanding their domains and some of them began to encroach on King Horace’s lands. Initially they were small skirmishes and raids but it soon became to frequent for King Horace to ignore. At this point, King Horace decided that defending his borders was becoming to time consuming and problematic so he decreed that he would route out the goblin menace and crush it at the source. He marched his army into the goblin lands and over a three year campaign he crushed the majority of the goblin menace and saw King Rablegash slain at the battle of  Rocky creek. The remaining goblins fled North or hid in the mountains.

Right their my little story creates the basis the basis for a historical event. It also means I need to add a special feature (Rocky Creek) to my region and ensure that most in the region know its significance. I will continue to come up with interesting historical events in this way to cover the last six hundred years. Maybe one hundred years ago there was a small goblin uprising as some of the goblins left the mountain and had to be vanquished? Maybe this occurred because deep in the mountains the goblins are running out of room? Maybe that deep cavern I added back in part 3 leads to an underground goblin kingdom? I also need to go back further in history. While the last six hundred years will be of most significance to our region, the world was shaped by events and deeds way before that. I should consider developing King Horace’s lineage as part of this too, and there are always notable events in the history of a royal family. I could go on giving examples here, but you get the idea of how to develop a time line by now. If you keep coming up with ideas, writing them down in note form and then answering any logical questions that these notes raise, you will have a good basic chronological time line  which you can continue to develop over time. I always like to leave a few decent gaps between some events, to allow myself the freedom to add historical events later. Some times (during game play) I see an opportunity for a great adventure hook that would benefit from a certain historically significant event, so I enjoy having the freedom to create it and fit it into my time line.

You can see how developing a history lends towards helping develop the current world. These historical events bring the world to life with a much needed sense of depth. The players of this world can draw from this historical knowledge. They may decide to go into the caverns to investigate and see if there is indeed a pending goblin threat, or they may be hired to do so. They may decided to scour Rocky Creek for lost items or may discover that some of the fallen warriors from the battle six hundred years ago have been seen wandering at night. Simple historical additions create opportunities for adventure hooks that can be employed by both players and Dungeon masters alike. In an organic free flowing game or (unstructured game) where the players decide more freely what they wish to do, and adventures are not given to them so linearly by the Dungeon Master, this kind of world development becomes essential. You can not progress successfully to this kind of advanced game play without a well developed world!

In the next part of this series we will look at fleshing out the details of your regions special features…….

Happy world building.

World Building Guide. Part 3.

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We have previously discussed how to begin putting a world together, and how to build the structure of your first town or village. We also looked at building your Non Player Characters in that settlement as well as their relationships with each other. It is important to not only build the relationships between people, but also between places. Once you have a single village (like Newton) developed, it will need some other places in the surrounding area for it and its inhabitants to interact with. Now it is time to make Newton, the forest it is close to and the portion of the river it sits upon part of a wider area or region. Much like we have counties or Parishes in our world, your world will benefit from similar borders or boundaries to define areas. I do not want my first region to be too big, so I am going to make it about one hundred and twenty miles from east to west, and about one hundred miles north to south. This way it can be crossed within a week by most people. It gives me a large enough area to have several other settlements, as well as a few places of interest for my players to explore.

Let us go back to Newton and make a few more decisions. We already decided that an average days travel for the folk in this area (being as horse and cart would be the standard medium of travel) is Fifteen to twenty miles. This is also the base distance we used when figuring out how large to make the region. We decided that a town is just within a days travel of Newton, so I would begin by creating and building that town. I decide to place it West (along the road). I develop this town in the same way I did Newton. We will call this town Heraford. Once I have completed it and created all the internal structures and relationships, it is time to look outwards.

I now need to look at the relationship between Heraford and Newton. I begin by deciding their social view of each other, and any dependencies they may have. How would Heraford describe Newton and vice versa. Lets start by examining the two settlements. Hereford is a town of three thousand people. It is close to some hills where a prominent ore mine is established, so it is primarily a mining town. It has more advanced building structures than Newton and has a larger population by far. It has a Mayor much the same as Newton, but it has an elected council of twelve people to keep up with the politics and running of the town. It is situated on the western trade road but is closer to a large city than Newton. Newton on the other hand is a village with one hundred and twenty people. It is situated close to a forest and sits upon the bank of a river. Well Newton will rely on Heraford for ore and most of its metals. It also may benefit from some of the overflow trade that heraford may receive from the closer proximity to the city. Hereford, on the other hand, needs lumber for building and in particular for mining. It may also enjoy some of the fresh fish from the river, and game and fur from the forest. We can see that both are somewhat dependent on each other, so the odds are they would have an amiable relationship. Also as we decided the town Heraford, would have a church and that Newton would only have a shrine, It is probable that many of the villagers from Newton travel to Heraford on Sundays or at least for religious special occasions. Also the local priest in Newton probably answers to the clergy in Heraford. Several of the people that grew up in either town, will probably have met and some ultimately married, so it is also a good idea to have some of the Non Player Character bloodlines living in both locations. So as I create the Non Player Characters for Heraford, I will be referencing Newtons populous, and extending some of the families.

This process will go on until I have several settlements in the region I am working on. Each settlement will be cross referenced with the others in its region, and in particular those that are closest to it. In this way we not only build an economy, but a civilized structure for life in the region. we should also then look at how each settlement is run, and decide who is over the region. Is it a local lord or a king? or does every settlement come under the jurisdiction of the city in that region?

Of course some regions you may develop may be less than civilized. maybe it is a vast tundra full of nomadic tribes that war between each other, or maybe it is a vast mountain range and only has a few remote outposts. Regardless the methods described so far will allow you to develop any region.

So lets assume that by now we had about ten settlements in our region. As we built them we noted features we wanted them to be near, some forests, rivers hills mountains etc. Now is the time we are going to look at those chosen features and begin to develop those.

We will begin with the forest outside of Newton. Firstly how big will it be? well I want it large enough to hide a few interesting things but it can not be too large or it will engulf much of my region. about fifteen miles in either direction will suffice. Maybe also at its northern most end it butts up against the foothills to some mountains so I will be considering that too. Also the river runs through one corner of it so that too will have an impact.

Well firstly we can begin by deciding what kind of trees grow in the forest. Is it a pine forest or are the trees more oak and elm etc. Next what natural creatures live in the forest. Well most certainly we will have small rodents, birds, snakes and insects. We will add bears, deer and bore to the mix and maybe even a few bobcats or mountain lions may be wandering (as the mountains are close by to the North). I do not need to add every single critter to the list, but it is important for me to examine the base natural life that inhabits my forest. The river makes it particularly viable for deer etc so that part of the forest would be great for hunting. Bear would come for the deer as would the villagers from Newton. Also bears love to fish. The temptation of the deer may be enough to draw some of the mountain lions further south than normal as well so it may not be uncommon to find those not to far away from the river. We also want to add a few additional features in the forest, such as where a few clearings may be or particularity large or old trees.

With the basic forest outlined we then want to add a few special features. old ruins, caves, caverns, demi human settlements etc. Reminding myself of the size of my forest, I am going to begin by adding a cave or two in the Northern part. The forest undoubtedly rises up to the north to meet the mountains, so this would be a logical place. How deep are the caves? well one is fairly shallow and only goes in a few hundred feet. The other I decide delves way down into the mountains and even meets an underground river at some point. The first cave may be home to bears, or maybe something more exotic. The other cave however gives us some exciting options. I am going to decide to make this somewhere my players are going to want to explore, and I can develop a good dungeon or something equally as exciting here. I may also decide that towards the center of the forest there is a small grove, and maybe woodland Nymphs or Dryads may dwell there. Each of these features is subject to similar consideration as the settlements where. Why is it there? Who or what lives there? What relationship does it have to the settlements? It is important to remember these things as you develop the special features. If I decide to put a goblin settlement inside the forest or perhaps in one of the caves, it is realistic to expect conflict to have arisen with the villagers of Newton. This would change the relationship between Newton and Heraford also, as Heraford would not want Newton to be over run by goblins. The social dynamic is an important aspect to consider when world building, and one that all to few Dungeon Masters consider in enough depth to allow their world to be believable.

We would continue to follow this process through out our region. Addressing the mountains, hills, forests, rivers, plains, marshes etc one by one until we have them fleshed out. Now you notice I did not go into detail about what I was going to put in my second cavern, only that I was going to make it a place that my players would want to visit. It is not important just yet to fill out all the details of each special feature, only to mark the existence of them. We need to be able to have some areas ready to adapt and grow as needed, while others we will want to have fully developed. Before we do to much with these special locations however we are going to want to develop some history for our region. We will look at developing the history of your world, and a chronological time line in part four of this series.

Happy World Building……….

World Building Guide. Part 2.

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To continue this series on world building,  we are going to start by giving a creative example so that you can more easily follow the process. In the first part we talked about the idea of a region and a starting town or village. We also explored a few options. Well let’s begin by naming it. Hence forth we shall call it Newton.

We decided that Newton would have grown up besides a Riverbank, and close to a forest. This will provide Newton with a water source, a resource for building and trade and some available food options. We also desired that it would have a road leading to it from East, West and North. We examined the idea that it also raised small livestock, specifically chickens. So we have these basic notes down on paper about Newton, so let’s start structuring things and detailing the various aspects and entities of the settlement..

Once again I am telling you that you will probably never finish. Oh you could finish Newton, as it is not that big and even with the depth of detail we are going to add, it is well within your ability to complete. In reality however, you don’t want to, and shouldn’t. We are going to detail each building, social group, notable person etc but we will also be creating some blank canvases.

When you begin the initial detailing phase, there will be some things you miss. Some aspects that once your players begin exploring Newton you will realize you may have omitted or wish you had included. This is where the blank canvases come in to play. I always have a few unlabeled buildings. I ensure I have some people that I have not yet named or detailed. Doing this allows me the freedom to add and grow in a favorable way. In short, I don’t pigeon hole my settlement.

So first lets decide on the population of Newton. Well I want it to be a reasonable sized Village that has several opportunities either within or close by for my players. We are dealing with a medieval fantasy settlement here, so lets assume the average family is three persons, and maybe we have about thirty families. We have a few single people and persons of note so I am going with a population of about one hundred and twenty people.

At this point lets look at a few demographics that work for a fantasy setting based on some medieval studies.

  • Typical Village:  20 to 1,000 people, (50 to 300 being average).
  • Typical Town:    1,000 to 8,000 people, (2500 being average).
  • Typical City:        8,000 to 12,000 people.
  • Major City:           12,000 to 100,000 people.

These are good guide numbers for determining settlement size and population.

So now I need to make sure I have enough housing to support the population so around forty five houses will suffice. Now to support them I need to examine the ancillary buildings that I need. Different businesses and trades have different Support Values (the number of people required to support a single business of its type). We will start with the Inn and tavern. Its only a village so a single Inn/tavern is plenty. The support value of this kind of establishment is around two thousand so until we get close to that we wouldn’t want a second Inn. We have a forest full of furry critters so their is a need for a furrier. Typically a single one would support a village of this size, but as it is a prominent resource and trade commodity, I am going to include two. we will have a Baker, a Tailor, a Blacksmith and a single General store. We will have a Fishmonger and prominent Lumber yard. We will also throw in a couple of less essential establishments. A local Herbalist would make sense due to the forest being so close, and we will add a local Barber/Surgeon to handle cutting hair, pulling teeth and basic medical needs. I decide not to include a church here, but instead shall include a church in the next closest town, that I am going to make reachable within a days travel. instead we will add a shrine and a single local priest to tend it. The mayor and five council members we decided upon previously, will need a place to meet, so we will include a simplistic town hall, that will also serve as a base of operations for the local militia (three militia men will be plenty) and a single jail cell.

This gives me a basic idea of how to put the town map together and decide upon the layout. If I decide to make this village sit on a popular trade route, I may want to add a few more services to support extra non resident people.

Next I need to create a Non Player Character and his or her family that belongs in each of the main buildings. I need to flesh them out enough to make them a viable source of interaction for our players. I do this by again making simple notes.

Lets start with the Inn Keeper.

  • Name: Johan Stevenson
  • Age: Forty two
  • Spouse: Maggie Stevenson
  • Children: None
  • Siblings: Dorian Stevenson (Local baker)
  • Born here: Yes
  • Demeanor: Jovial, Happy, enthusiastic, sociable.
  • Appearance: Five ft nine, Chubby, brown hair (slightly greying), no facial hair.

This is enough info for now. It tells me I need to create a relationship for him and Maggie Stevenson, as well as Dorian Stevenson. Of course I also need to make similar notes on both of these individuals too.

I will not do this for every single family. although I will probably flesh out about half of them beyond those essential, just so I have some ready to go at a moments notice. I will also create a few solo individuals.

When I work on the relationships I create a few different levels. I create the social relationships, Business relationships, political relationships and special relationships.

So for example. Johan Stevenson has obvious social relationships with Maggie and Dorian, but will have several others too. He also has a business relationship with Dorian as well as the Fishmonger, Chicken farmers, Blacksmith and more. He has a political relationship with the mayor and council (as he runs a business, and has taxes and fees to pay). We could decide that as Inn keeper he may be one of the elected council men, but I do not want to have him in that roll. I decide he has a special relationship with a local thief. For a cut of the take, Sometimes Johan informs the thief about any wealthy looking guests he has staying, and what room they are sleeping in. He may also ensure that a wealthy person has one of two rooms that he keeps reserved, that have windows with broken locks.

A simple little addition of information like the special relationship between Johan and the local thief, already creates opportunities for interaction or an encounter. Maybe the players will end up in one of these two rooms and become victims of the thief. Maybe they will be in the Inn the following morning when a wealthy Nobleman comes downstairs proclaiming that he was robbed during the night. This could become an enticing adventure hook.

By now we have the basic requirements to make Newton a visit able place for our players, but we will not stop there.  We need to decide on how the village is run. We look at the mayors demeanor as well as the demeanor of the council members and decide are they just, fair, crooked, power crazed etc? We decide that the council will be fair and just, but the mayor will be a bit on the shady side. He is fond of visiting the closest town and loves the gambling hall. It is not uncommon for him to gamble with tax money and he frequently gets himself in financial hot water. Again possible adventure hooks spring to life. We need to look at laws and in particular any that are non standard. Also punishments and how they are handled. The town has three militia men which can handle day to day petty crime etc, but what happens when something major happens? Maybe the mayor calls for aid from the closest town, or appeals to the lord of this region for aid.

Next we will look at the religious and philosophical aspects of the village. We have a shrine and a single priest. The shrine is to a deity that has forests as part of his domain. This makes sense as the forest is a big part of what keeps Newton thriving. The local priest will be Father Herbert Fallen. We will of course have already fleshed him out and have a basic profile for him. However as he has an actual class (a cleric) we need to go a bit further and detail more about him to include his main spells etc. I would make a short form character sheet for the priest too and detail his level, stats, prominent skills and Hit points etc. Sundays father Fallen holds a service in the village hall for the citizens of Newton. he also offers a blessing each day to those heading into the woods to hunt and cut lumber etc. The town for the most part are all religious, so the service is attended well. Visitors to the town will often hear comments such as “thanks be to (insert forest deity here)”.

Next we take a look at the economy. The general economy of the village should be fairly decent, as it is largely self sufficient. However the village is heavily taxed due to current personal financial problems of the mayor. We will set up trade routes with the other close by settlements and in particular ones for items that the village needs that it can not produce itself. Importing metals, beef, pork, textiles etc as well as exporting of lumber and maybe fish northwards where there are some settlements that are not situated on a natural water source.

The general contentment level of the village will be a little disheveled. The excessive taxation without evidence of where the money goes, has most of the population at unrest. They may not be rioting or resorting to an uprising, but to an observant outsider it may be apparent.  Once again here is a great opportunity for adventure.

There is still work to do, and you will have left yourself room for later expansion or adding situational details. You now have the workings of a functioning village and its inner factions and social makeup.

In the next part of the series will will look at developing the region, and adding external features and places of interest.

Happy World Building……………….

World Building Guide. Part 1.

Map of the world of Saemmyr for the Pathfinder fantasy roleplaying game

Every Dungeon Master at some point decides he wants to build his own world. He wants to create something magical and unique and introduce his players to his own vision. We are going to start with this, the first in a series of posts tackling the subject of world creation, and just how much work it is to do it right!

Why Create a world?

Creating a world and I mean a world,  is a tremendous undertaking. Most Dungeon masters draw a map, add towns, cities, rivers, mountains, swamps etc. Label everything and then think they have created a world. What they have in fact created is a map. Nothing more. To create a world you have to develop its geography, ecology, society, sociology,climatology, cultures, commerce, system of government etc etc. There are several fully developed, published campaign worlds out there, like Forgotten realms, Ravenloft, Planescape, Eberron, Mystara and Greyhawk to name but a few. Unless you are willing to put the work in to truly create a world, my advice is DON’T! Go with one that is already created and developed. You can still set your own adventures and create your own stories so I seriously recommend for the bulk of you , that you take that path.

Now IF you think you are willing to put the work in and want to create your own world, read on.

We will start by examining a few facts about true world building.

  1. You are going to spend a vast amount of time to create a worthwhile world!
  2. You are going to have to do a lot of research and learning!
  3. You are going to burn out from time to time!
  4. you will NEVER finish your world!

While you are indeed making a fantasy world, for it to be successful, your players are going to have to believe in it. They must feel the immersion and feel like they are part of a living breathing land. It must change overtime, and certain aspects must change and others must evolve. Lets look at the world we live in. It is vastly different today than it was ten years ago, and each decade that passes yield huge changes. Your world will need to be different, yet it must still feel similar in many ways so as to be believable. A land covered in lava or fully submerged in water will feel alien, and the work you will need to do to make it viable will be monumental.

I have created several worlds over the decades, and most I look back at now and laugh at. My earlier successes as Dungeon Master were with Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft and Greyhawk. Not with my own creative disasters. In fact I don’t believe I had a world that I could look back on and say anything positive about it (if I am being honest) until 2003. Even then it only held glimmers of promise and made no real strides. However in 2004 I began a process. I had evolved from the classic three act concepts of adventure building, and towards truly non linear game sessions. I had Broken free of the shackles of how most Dungeon Masters think and moved towards a truer creative process. At this time I realized I needed a world that could support this way of gaming. This world would be living, and evolving and would support itself and hold up to scrutiny from even the most veteran players. Any aspect of my world could be explained with logical and viable explanations. It would feel familiar so as to make the players feel comfortable, yet different enough so as to en-capture their sense of wonder. Over a decade later it is less than thirty percent finished and it never will be.

Currently I have two worlds. One that I use for pen and paper games around a physical tabletop and another that I use for Virtual tabletop gaming. It is simply not possible to play truly organic sessions and deliver the quality graphical content that I need to on Howreroll. While virtual tabletops do allow this in theory, as most do allow a free hand drawing option, I only use fully produced graphics and maps for encounters on the show, so I must make sure I have content for everything. It simply is not possible to have content ready for every possible eventuality, so as such I have to operate a sub linear approach. I will explain what I mean by truly organic gaming in another topic but for now lets get back to world building.

There are really three basic ways to begin building a world. The first method is to sketch and draw the outlines of the world map, and then pick a place to start and begin filling in the details for that area and region. The second way is to ignore the boundaries of the world itself and just develop a starting area and surrounding areas in depth, and allow the world to grow outwards. The third and my favored method is somewhere between the two. I create the outline of the world, but then go farther and create regions. I spend time developing a structure and overall concept for each region. Then I dig down to a starting area and develop it fully, and all the supporting areas around it. My intent will be to concentrate my sessions and adventures in this are to begin with, and while my players explore this full and richly developed area, I can work on expanding the areas around it.

First steps and research.

I suggest you begin by studying maps. Real world maps. Pay attention to the coast lines, where the mountains are and what appears around them. Look how the rivers flow, and the affects on areas due to climate and elevation. Look to see where towns and cities are and ask yourself, why are they where they are? This will give you a basic understanding of how a world grows. Yes a world is a living thing that grows over time. Villages become towns, towns become cities but only if the region around them supports. You can see how the land is vastly different from continent to continent. How distances between settlements varies based on the archaeology of the land and where the larger cities seem to be placed.

Next, look at history and see how major events have altered the world. Pay attention to wars and events of economic impact and see how they affect the world. Not just the populations, but the geography and cultural changes they cause.

If you have access to one or more published worlds I advise you to study those next. See how others tackled the subject of world building, and examine their outlook on creation. You will usually see they have a lot of information about each region. They detail the economy, the small and large settlements, the areas of interest and much more. These are all things you are going to want to tackle in your world. You should also be getting a really good idea of just how much work this really is going to be by now…

A beginning.

Once you think you have an understanding prepare to begin the real work! Draw your first map and look at it. Then draw a second, a third and maybe a fourth. Why? well because I can tell you from experience you will see things you are not happy with in the first one and you will make corrections as you go. Several maps later you may have something you are happy with. This is your blank canvas as such so it needs to be right before you start. In truth, you can always plug your developed areas into a new map, but for the most part its easier to begin with a decent frame work. You can go as large as an entire world, or just start with one decent sized continent. Bare in mind though you will need to set a basic geography for each continent or land mass. Then next step is to add mountains and rivers. If you did what you were told to do earlier, and study maps you should have seen a format in how mountains and rivers seem to be geographically located. Rivers run from the high points down to the low points and typically will end up at the ocean or some other geographical low point so as to make lakes or swamps. Once you have placed your mountain regions and main rivers you can start to imagine the lay of the land.

Now you need to pick a starting point. This is where your players are going to begin life in your world. As the world develops and you run subsequent campaigns, you will have options, but for now you will need to work on the first region. You are going to have a lot of things to consider at this point. Distance, modes of travel, ecological features, social development, natural occurrences, political structure, philosophical outlook and unnatural inhabitants. Your first settlement (which is a good place to start) will need to be able to support its population. It will need access to water, and food sources. A form of potential trade, such as forestry or farming and a hierarchy and system of government. It will need to be able to be self sufficient or have avenues of trade. It will need to have a cultural outlook and philosophical outlook. Begin by making a few short notes. For example.

The town is on the bank of a river and close to a forest. It has a road going through it from east to west and also one going north. The town uses wood as a main source of material and trade commodity. It relies on small animal farming such as chicken, and hunting for its main food supply. It supplements this with fishing. It has a town council that has five electoral seats and a mayor. It comes under the protection of the local lord. It has no formal church but gives thanks to the nature goddess. It holds a yearly festival to celebrate the “rutting season” of the forest deer. Common food types found here are chicken, eggs, Deer, boar and fish. Their lack of availability of metal means that this is a main import for them, as would be textiles other than animal pelts. The main exports would be lumber and furs.

Once you have these notes down, you can find a spot on the map and fill in the details such as the forest and situate the town on the river next to the forest. Now you can draw in the start of the east to west road and north road.

This gives you a very rough starting point. Now you are going to want to elaborate and begin to structure everything. What buildings make up the town? What is the population? How many men, women and children? Are their any other racial inhabitants, and if so what is the social situation regarding them? Who is on the council and how and why would they be chosen? What form of law enforcement does the town employ? Is there a criminal element and if so why? How content are the average citizens in the town? Are those that rule just or unjust?

Many of these things can be answered by creating social groups and then addressing the relationships between each. We have the merchants, the farmers, the foresters, the council members and mayor. We have the law enforcers, we have the criminal element and maybe some homeless. How each of these groups views the other is part of creating a believable social structure.

You will also have to start thinking about what other natural features and settlements are around your town, and how far away are they. The distance between your town and these things will also have an impact on its structure and society. If the main mode of transport is horse and cart then a days travel will cover fifteen to twenty miles. This means that if the closest town is seventy five miles away, you are looking at five days travel to reach it. How far away is a metal source? or a town that mines? If it is a long way away the cost of metal items will be higher in your town due to the import costs.

Now you see why I say it is a massive undertaking to build a world. The good news is you do not have to make it in one day. You can’t. You wont even finish in a year or a decade. You will never truly finish your world but that’s OK. You only need to create enough world as your players can explore. In fact you do not want to finish it. If you do then you have no room to add something new.

In part two we will look at how to add individual details and objects to your region, and how to record and detail your world information.

Happy World Building………………..