World Workshop

If I had a hammer, I wouldn’t actually build anything with it, just try to make a better hammer

Write what you know. I think everyone has heard that little nugget of wisdom, whether they want to be a writer or not. I don’t remember where I first heard it – though it’s been tossed my way many a time since, when I’ve mentioned being blocked or stuck or hard-up for inspiration.

It’s good advice. I should listen to it more often than I do – my last two serious forays into writing fiction were A) a detective novel set in Los Angeles (a city I have never been to and know little about) and B) a vampire novel set in the 1800’s (a period I’ve never spent more than a couple hours studying) in Marseille (a city I have also never been to and know little about).

So, you know, I suck. And both those novels remain incomplete.

Okay, that’s a lie. Both those novels remain barely started. There, honesty – I smell personal growth.

One thing I do know about? Is creating a setting. Detailing a world – building internal consistency and logic. Drawing disparate elements together to form a cohesive (but not uniform) whole. I love making settings, whether for writing fiction or running roleplaying games, or whatever. I love the sort of architectural approach where I look down and put the entire puzzle together.

Of course the problem is that, typically, when I finish making a setting? I often don’t do anything with it. My ex was the one who pointed this trend out to me – I’d more or less overlooked it for over a decade. She spotted it pretty easily – probably something to do with the dozen spiral notebooks I had kicking around our apartment, each one filled with dozens (if not hundreds) of notes on settings, how magic worked, who ruled what country, etc. etc.

Write what I know? I know world building. So, you know, here we are.

Before he stopped updating regularly to deal with an unspecified illness, Rich Burlew – the genius cartoonist/game-designer who brought us the Order of the Stick (if you like D&D and haven’t read it, stop reading this and go read all 727 comics in his archive starting at the beginning – I’ll wait) – did more than just do a webcomic. He also posted cool articles on gaming. My favorite series of articles he wrote? The New World in which he (you guessed it) created a new campaign setting, for all the world to see.

So I’m going to totally rip him off.

I mean, why not? I’m going home (to Ontario) sometime around the end of August – and I’ve already decided that I’m going to run a 4e game when I get back. I also decided that, since pretty much every one of my players will be brand-new to the game that I should not start them off with Dark Sun. I just don’t think I could run a “newbie-friendly” Dark Sun game – my nostalgia for that setting is too tied up in the cruel brutality of that world. I’d rather run a more “traditional” D&D campaign first, get my players into the game itself, and then run a Dark Sun campaign later.

One nice thing about that attitude is that it gives me an excuse to create a new fantasy world – something I haven’t done in a couple of years (my world-building stuff has mostly been creating secret societies of vampires in Earth’s history, or magic in the shadows of modern-day California, or whatever).

So I gave it some thought while I was on my trip about some of the core components I wanted incorporate into the setting. Right away I decided I wanted there to be lots of water, with more than one major landmass – I tend to focus on inland nations a lot, and I though having lots of opportunities to travel by sea (not to mention fight pirates; every setting is made better by increasing the potential for pirates) would change that up a bit. My recent focus on both Dark Sun and classical history has left me liking the idea of powerful city-state, rather than big nations. Conflict is always good, so I’m going to have two – maybe three – regional powers all vying for supremacy with one another in all spheres of influence: military, political, and mercantile.

The quick map sketch I did in the hotel room. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The quick map sketch I did in the hotel room. Click to see an enlarged copy.

So, what I wound up doing was cranking out a quick sketch while I was in my hotel room, which I snapped a picture of using the digital camera (I don’t have a scanner). I used Photoshop to sharpen the image and up the contrast, so its a bit easier to see. I’ll be doing a proper map as I write these articles.

Alright so, lots of theory, not much detail this time around. I’ll probably be updating this section at least once a week – maybe more often, if I want to have everything ready by the time I move.