Sunday, November 28, 2010

World Creation

I've been reading a lot of blogs for a while now and some of you have some fascinating things to say and a lot of really good ideas (that I steal from without remorse). I've noticed quite a few people out there creating, or having created, fairly elaborate gaming worlds for your players. And I have to say I'm impressed with what you've done. 

I, however, can't seem to think that globally right out of the gate for some reason. I'm not good with imagining global economics and terrain anomalies a racial environments and everything else that comes with building a world. So I decided a few years ago that I would do it exactly the opposite to the normal way of creating a world. I decided to start very small and expand it as the party moved further and further away from their starting location.

I begin the world with an adventure hook to get the party together: a small group of town militia send to a larger city in the south for a mundane, yet important to the town's welfare, errand. So basically, I began the world with a small town and a larger city several days travel to the south. In between I placed a forest, a coastline to the west, a provincial border to the north and some low hills to the east. And that was pretty much it. 

An early, hand-drawn version
The adventure I had planned would keep them in the city of Ravendale for a while and begin dropping rumors and possible adventure hooks outside of town. As they explored those hooks and leads, I would start adding a few details here and there to the map. Sort of a "fog of war" scenario as there were from a small town and had never really been far from home. A trip to the big city WAS an adventure for them. After a while, they discovered that the low hills to the east were foothills to a larger mountain range that stretched east and south. The forest held the remains of an old military outpost and a clan of marauding orc that were joining forces  with a tribe of nomad gnolls that had wandered south along the coast to avoid the border skirmish that was brewing near their home town. The western coastline held a mysterious, well hidden cave system that allowed smaller ships to sail an underground tributary into a hidden port city beneath the surface of the world. Further to the south was the capital city and the benevolent ruler of the province in which the lived. 

I had placed enough rumors and hooks in all directions to allow them to go any direction they wanted and when they got to each hook, they would find more hooks that would lead them even further away. This allowed me to expand the world at a slower pace and not feel like I wasted a bunch of time creating things that they wouldn't explore for long, long periods of time, or even at all. 

It also gave the players the feeling that they were truly discovering new lands rather than looking at a bigger map and saying "lets see whats in hex A3-42". Granted, that's really for the DM to control, but if they see something interesting on a map, they get curious.

Whenever we would start new characters, I would start them in a location already mapped, but near an edge so there would be plenty of opportunity to explore and expand the map. So in effect, the party was helping to create the world in which they were adventuring. And they never even knew it. It was some time before any of them discovered that I had been creating the world as the explored and they were a little surprised to say the least. I think they thought I actually knew what I was doing. Foolish adventurers...

So am I crazy for creating a world backwards or are there other people out there that have done something similar?


  1. I don't think that's the wrong way by any means. Most elaborate world creation is as much for the GM as the players. Look at how ignorant well-educated people these days can be of the larger world. Why would people in a typical fantasy world be MORE aware. Most people in the medieval period, if that can be considered a model for most fantasy worlds, never traveled more than a few hours walk from their homes/birthplace. They may have heard about the great cities, but didn't expect to go there. They knew the surrounding villages and the closest market town. Most starting PCs wouldn't know much more than that. And would probably be considered weird for wanting to know more. So, primary character motivation right there.

    Building your world slightly ahead of your PCs needs is a great way to do it. And it allows you to take advantage of ideas and misconceptions put forth by your players. They'll come up with things you'd never think of; you can steal it and shamelessly tell them "Hey, you were right. It's exactly that way!"

  2. This is exactly the method i'm planning to use for my upcoming game. I was leaning towards just developing a single, self sufficient, city, but I may steal the idea of having a larger city nearby.

    As the players explore the world, I develop it as necessary. That way, it doesn't matter what's over the mountains or across that ocean if they never bother crossing them.

  3. I heartily agree with GSV above for a number of reasons:

    1. The technical challenge of producing a whole world map in a pseudo medieval setting is probably beyond even the most skilled cartographer.

    2. Even if it could be done the cost would be prohibitive making it the preserve of Kings.

    3. Reliable and acurate mapping across oceans requires the cartographer to have an accurate time piece. Not something I've ever come across in any of the Fantasy RPG worlds.

    4. The lack of long distance mass transit means that the general population have no need for large maps. Their primary purpose, in a medieval setting, is to chart the extent of an Empire for trade and war which again makes it the preserve of the economic or political elite.

    There's no right or wrong way to go about it (including rivers which seem to go uphill).

    The above said, I began with a world map partly 'cos it looks cool, partly because I find it easier and quicker to place scenarios (or tweak the geography) in my world than have to map as I go and partly because I want my players to contribute to the world building process. I have areas of my world which fit different settings and periods, for example Wulfschlossen is a traditional germanic fantasy setting, whereas Tsi-Lung is a feudal Japanese setting.

    I'm currently in the process of a major rebuild of the world (including googlemapping it) before I begin my next campaign in January. I'd be grateful for some feedback from other world builders when I reveal it.


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