Wednesday 18 November 2009

Elesalia - a world is born.

As I’m going to be running a sandbox in my campaign world, and will be making references to the world and its history, I thought that it would be a good idea to introduce it and its creative process, as well as many of the events, personalities and such like that exist therein.

Ever since I started to reactivate my interest in D&D, I had known that I would need a campaign world. I enjoy world design, so much so that I could do it all day as my good buddy Old 4 Eyes knows (and if anyone wants some world-building sub-contracted, I’m your man). So, rather than start with a blank sheet of hex paper and work out from a starting base, I wanted to get the world sketched out and then zoom in, making progressively more detailed maps until I had an area that I considered was suitable for setting the sandbox in.

There’s been a lot of talk just recently about the virtues or otherwise of keeping the campaign focused, of not creating more than you have to, of too much detail cramping creativity.

This may well be true for some DMs. However, as will be seen, the size of the world that I have set about creating is such that months, if not years of creating detail will never fill it to the extent that there is nothing more to say about it. With reference to an example, I know – thanks to my world history – that 360 years before the present, the Iron Legion, an army of vengeful dwarves set off to liberate their mountains from a horde of humanoids and were never seen again. That’s all I need to know at present. That’s the level of detail that I want to have when working on my campaign. I can now drop hints and suggestions into play without having to write a 100-page story about what happened to the Legion. I’m sure that I’ll find out. But I had to have that initial detail done, so that future creations ‘on the fly’ don’t contradict what I’ve already created. Otherwise, the entire campaign might as well be run on retcon.

I knew that I wanted the campaign world to have certain things in it. I sat down and listed out the features that I wanted it to have, the sort of things that I could imagine leading to whole series of adventures, such as

A young civilisation, rising from a period of chaos and war.
Large distances to make for epic journeys – not a case of “Oh, the temple of XXXX? That’s a couple of hours in that direction”
Pirates and corsairs.
A long-fallen empire of evil magic.
A wide variety of terrain types and landscapes.
Wild, humanoid-infested wilderness where hard-pressed humans strive to hack a civilisation out of the chaos.
Desert cities, full of mysterious viziers, fat sultans, houris, lost cities drowned under seas of sand
Settled lands – a wide valley of little kingdoms and baronies, all with the potential for conflict if need be.
A doughty fastness from which adventurers could go off to explore the wildlands.
Explanation for the animosity between dwarves and elves.
Towering mountains beneath which swarm countless multitudes of humanoids.
Wild northern barbarian hordes.
Mercantile city port, full of travellers, adventurers, freebooters, rogues – a bit like Lankhmar.
Stronghold of magic, wisdom and lore.
Fallen and ruined cities, full of peril and ancient treasure.
Major city, the nexus and hub of all goings on in the world – comes complete with ruined city and dangerous sewers and catacombs.
Slave merchants.
Hobbit nomads – the diametric opposite of Tolkien’s homebodies.
Giants in the mountains.
A dark forest where evil secrets lurk.
A tough clan of warriors with super-sharp swords who fell against the forces of evil many years ago.
Clans of elves, taking a paternalistic and distant view of the human johnny-come-latelies.
A sinister band of assassins and spies who have been driven underground (but not defeated) by the forces of good.
A lost cavern complex infested by undead but home to fabulous riches.
Dragons to be a natural predator menace, but not some organised force for evil.

I also wanted a milieu into which any of the existing modules could be dropped if I needed to use them. For example, I needed mountains for the G modules, a string of islands where a slaver confederacy lived for the A modules, a recently vanquished evil cult for T1-4, a large marshy area for the location of Tomb of Horrors, etc.

After a couple of abortive attempts at drawing up a world map, both of which failed to pass my notoriously self-critical standards, I went back to the drawing board and started to google ‘world building’, hoping that there was some advice on the net. For sure, I found a lot of how-to and step-by-step sites, the advice in which I absorbed, but then by serendipitous chance, I came across the website of Chris Wayans, a site that I thoroughly recommend to world-builders and anyone interested in speculative geography.

Chris takes Earth and spins it through a number of different scenarios, from extreme global warming resulting in a rise in ocean levels, through a steady-state ice age, an Earth turned over on its side, and an Earth wholly inverted. I’ve used several of the images to prompt continent-building for the campaign world of my good buddy Old 4 Eyes, for whom I am doing some cartographic design work.

The results of Wayans’ experiments are fascinating but what caught my eye was on the world named Jaredia (for Jared Diamond and his book Guns, Germs and Steel) a map of an ice-free Antarctica.

The more I looked at it, the more it started to feel as if I’d stumbled across a serendipitous nugget of inspiration. It seemed to have everything I was looking for and seemed to be about the same size as Greyhawk. I could hear the sound of boxes being ticked.

Using some rather low-tech devices, like tracing the map onto plain paper by holding both up against a window on a sunny day, I soon had a version that was ready to be fleshed out; very little work was required to turn the original Wayans map into my own campaign world.

For a long time, it had no name, but I thought recently that if I was going to share it with others on this blog, it was going to have to be named. And a few shuffles of letters later, its title came to be.


(my apologies for the cropping,as I'm only just mastering the art of scanning to jpeg).

In the next post in this series, I’ll be zooming in on one particular part of the world and explaining how I set about making the sandbox.

1 comment:

  1. Hurrah the world has a name - like it btw

    Indeed I can attest to world design comment! Its been a pleasure to bounce ideas back and forth - despite the untimely intervention of British Telecom and a certain Undead Gerbil on numerous occasions B-)