FuckedWorld

FuckedWorld – Core Assumptions

Since I first introduced you all to the concept of FuckedWorld, Glen has posted his own initial thoughts over on his blog, and the emails have been both fast and furious between myself and the G-Unit (there you go you stupid fucker, I finally used the nickname you gave yourself when we were teenagers – never let it be said I don’t love you, man). I’m going to explain the FuckedWorld methodology in brief, before I cut to the meat of today’s article.

Our method is, appropriately, fucked. We do the work by email, sometimes sending a couple mails back and forth in a single day. It’s turn based – he says something, then I say something. We seem to have, thusfar, managed to keep each statement to a couple of short paragraphs. Each article will be centered around a single topic (with the person who didn’t pick the topic getting “first say”), and we’ll go back and forth until we feel we’ve established what needs establishing – the whole thing is likely to come out like more of a discussion than a polished article, which is good: I think it provides an interesting window into setting creation and collaboration.

We agreed that the first topic should be the nine core assumptions of the D&D game (as presented on page 150 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). We flipped a coin, randomly giving each of us “authority” over different assumptions, just to get that really fucked feeling that we want for FuckedWorld. So, without further ado, I present to you our debut piece.

The World Is a Fantastic Place (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I’m so glad that I got this one, because it’s central to pretty much my entire concept for this world.  The planet is in fact the prison for a living deity at the centre.  How is that not fantastic?  Also, the remains of the many long dead gods are strewn about the world.  In my head these can take on all sorts of different shapes and sizes depending on who they come from, for example a piece of the former god of combat may take the form of a sword.  In my idea, these can provide different powers or knowledge to the inhabitants of the world.  Acquiring these should serve as motivation for heroes and villains alike.

Brian says: While the concept of “the world is a god” is cool, I have to be honest – I’m more enamored of your concept of God Shards that have been cast down the the surface of the “prison” (i.e. the world). One has to assume that a fragment of a god, torn from his/her body during the violent throes of death, is going to be one fucked up…whatever it is. I just think its important to highlight that while the god shards can provide power, motivation, and information for every benevolent god shard out there, there’s probably three that are confused or crazed. I’d also suggest that the more power/awareness a shard has, the larger it is – thus that sword you mention is a powerful artifact, but truly formidable shards are the sort of immovable things temples and shrines get built around.

Glen says: Not sure about that, because if the big ones were all powerful, then they would have been more likely to have been found.  I like the “good things come in small packages” idea for these, and could be very unpredictable.  Although to have mountains or lakes as very powerful God Shards sounds great.  I do love the idea of the crazed shards, or shards that could be too powerful for mere mortals to handle.  Perhaps a profile for the fallen gods would be needed to have some sort of standard process for the powers/punishments that they bestow on the people who find them.

The World Is Ancient (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: As I said, civilizations have existed for thousands of years.  The empires of the past could easily be explained by saying that the first races to rule where the first ones to start to exist, after their God Shard fell to the surface of the planet.  I like the idea of there being an ancient empire that was the first race to discover arcane magic.  They held power across the globe for centuries before the arcane secrets were stolen and shared across the other races who rebelled against them, creating the balance we now see.

While my first instinct would be to have this race be humans, that doesn’t seem fantastic enough.  So let’s go all in with the fantasy theme here.  The world used to be run by Dragons until recently.

Brian says: Let me respond with a counter-proposals. Absolutely, I agree with your “not humans” idea – both because you’re right, it isn’t fantastic enough, and because it jibes nicely with my whole “civilized races on the run” concept. Instead of dragons, what about efreet? I suggest them for two reasons, one conceptual and one pragmatic. From a concept standpoint, dragons are always the secret arcane beings in the background – think Dark Sun or Dragonlance. Efreet are magical, cruel, powerful, and not nearly so omnipresent in fantasy. From a pragmatic standpoint, efreet are size large – dragons range from size large to size gargantuan. If you want to set an adventure in the ruined city of that old empire, I think it works better if its a little closer to the characters’ size – gargantuan cities with doors the size of a house are only a novelty once.

The specifics of which race are the “ancient ones” aside, I like this idea that the oldest race one ruled uncontested until its unique advantage (magic) escaped from its clutches. Somewhat off topic, but germane if magic was the principal edge in the old empire – where do you see psionics fitting in?

Glen says: Sold on the Efreet!!!!  They fit it perfectly.  Especially because they would be the perfect race to have Magical Steamships, which they used to dominate the entire globe.  Eventually one of the other races found a God Shard that gave birth to the other Genies, the Djin, Dao, and Marid who helped steal the powers of magic from the Efreet, and a massive rebellion took place against the overlords.  However, after they pushed the Efreet back to the far corners of the earth, they began infighting and shattered their front against them, instead carving their own kingdoms, which exist to this day.

As for Psionics, I like the idea of it being just discovered before the game starts.  Like all of a sudden a few days ago, Psionics were “turned on” which is set to be a game changer in the world.  I kind of wanted this to be done for magic, but it changes a lot of the game.

The World Is Mysterious (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: No longer the case – though there certainly are bastions of ignorance left in the world, many of the mysteries of the land have been solved by the diligent work of explorers, cartographers, scholars and academics. I like the notion that many of these mysteries were solved during the days of the mightiest nations – nations which have now fallen, but their secrets are readily available from the learned men who still know them.

Glen says: I can buy this one for sure.  Especially when it comes in with the God Shards.  I mean if the knowledge of the gods is potentially available, who is to say that it hasn’t been found by someone or another?  One change I would like to make though, is that knowledge has been by and large kept into the hands of the elite.  While it is possible for most people to know something, it is not incredibly common, probably because the civilized races are “on the run” so most people don’t have time to study and what not.  The reason I make this suggestion is actually very pragmatic in nature.  I think for gameplay reasons, it is easy to have a lot of the world shrouded in mystery to the PCs.  It limits the amount of pre-story that you need to say as a DM, and it’s way more fun to have the secrets of the world explained in character so the players will have some connection to it.  So yeah, lots of information is readily available for those that have the time not being killed to access it.

Brian says: Absolutely agreed – when I said that “the world is mysterious” is no longer the case, I was talking in a broad strokes, top-down fashion. The secrets of existence, the laws of how the world (and, I suppose, the greater cosmology) have been discovered by some of the people of the world – but absolutely, leave the potential for the PCs to be kept in the dark. We could even go so far as to say that the so-called “civilized” races were, for some reason, the ones left out of the wisdom of the god shards – which would help explain the supremacy of “monsters.”

Monsters Are Everywhere (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I’ve got to say I’m pretty stoked to have wound up with this assumption because it, along with assumption six (“the civilized races band together”) allows me to really invert a traditional trope. Monsters are everywhere, but not in the traditional hiding places – certainly some monsters prowl the countryside, but for the most part there is little danger in the wild. Instead, the monsters rule mighty nations – kingdoms of trolls or orcs, mightier than any elven or human nation. The dungeons of this world are not ruins or underground temples, but are instead the military camps or fortified towns of monster-ruled nations.

Glen says: Cool!  I always wondered why there were so few monster empires in the world.  There’s occasionally a token orc or goblin kingdom, but nothing other than that.  Sure they are evil and conniving, but I’m sure they can band together long enough, especially under the lead of a strongman.  Now the obvious question is, how do these monster kingdoms interact with one another and with the nations of elves and humans?  I mean, do they live in uneasy peace or in a constant state of war?

For some reason a Kingdom of Troll slavers inspires me a bit.  They conquered old lands of elves, dwarves, and orc, and use them as labour.  As they routinely run out of fodder, they make frequent raids on nearby towns, but so far have proven to not be stopped.  Trying to end this threat could be the basis for several adventures or hell, a whole campaign.

Brian says: I’d say most of the monster kingdoms exist in a state of uneasy peace with one another, while their attitude toward the player races is one of somewhat uglier hostility. The notion of a troll kingdom that has a particularly nasty attitude toward slavery (i.e. they like it) is one I like also. Trolls, in virtually every edition of D&D that I can think of, always have regeneration – and it occurs to me that they just might not be able to comprehend the notion that other people can’t regrow limbs – not because they’re stupid, its more like a sort of culture shock. Combined with the fact that they probably aren’t super-concerned with the well-being of their slaves to begin with, and you’ve got a recipe for consistent slave raids.

Adventurers Are Exceptional (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This to me is the most important and non-negotiable of all of these assumptions.  Changing any of the other assumptions can make the setting more memorable or fun, but this one is crucial for enjoyment of the game to me.  If I wanted to be another face in the crowd, I’d stick to real life thank you very much.

Brian says: Another possibility is that adventurers are not exceptional – but that the death of adventurers is even less exceptional. If the player races (if monsters have civilizations we can’t keep calling PHB races the “civilized races” now can we?) are declining, maybe the only reason they don’t exist entirely in slavery or history is that there are a lot of adventurers fighting the good fight. Sort of a bloody, brutal fighting retreat from the brink of obscurity and extinction. I’m hardly married to this concept, but it’s a thought.

Glen says: Hmmm…I’m not certain to be honest.  I think I like the grim nature of our world, and to have the PCs serve as “the only hope” adds some excitement and urgency to the campaign.

The Civilized Races Band Together (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: To be perfectly honest, they fucking well should have. If they had, then maybe the kingdoms of humans or dwarves would rival those of the monsters who now rule the majority of the known world. As it stands, the racial prejudices (I’d prefer to avoid the tiresome elf v. dwarf stereotype and find more interesting sources of racial intolerance, quite frankly) of the “civilized” (read that: PHB1) races are what continue to keep them divided – and what assure the supremacy of their enemies, the “uncivilized” (read that: Monster Manual) races.

Glen says: I like this idea of all of the races hating one another.  However, it does create some sort of problem for creating a campaign.  Do you want to have a party consisting of all one race, or rather have them constantly have to deal with not liking one another?  It could make for some challenging role playing.  I think that the other races should hate one another, but perhaps there is one small town on the edge of civilization (i.e. getting raided by the Trolls) that they are forced to band together a bit, and that’s where the campaign is set, to avoid the odd challenge of setting up a multiracial party in a world of hatred.

Brian says: I’ve given this a lot of thought – both why do the player races hate one another, how do we make mixed-race parties a functional reality, and (this one’s slightly off-topic) what separates the “player races” and the “monster races” – as we’ve already established that the monsters are just as “civilized” as the player races. Off the top of my head, concepts for mixed-race parties include: the ever-popular “you’re all slaves of the trolls, so you hate one another but too bad” method, “your town on the edge of civilization” method, or the simple but effective “yeah your people hate one another, but its an alliance of convenience because extinction is way inconvenient” method. I think the important this is that, as a rule, the races dislike one another – and certainly, single-race parties are a viable approach, but I’m more interested in the notion of the mixed-race party coming to town, only to be told that “we don’t serve dwarves here!”

Magic Is Not Everyday, but it Is Natural (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I don’t really have a good reason for this, but that’s sort of what this whole project is about in the first place – I always lean toward low-magic, preferring characters rely on their own skills and wits than some mystical deus ex machina. For that reason, and that reason alone, I think I want us to go high-magic. I don’t really have anything specific in mind, just a commonness to magic that allows it to fill a role traditionally occupied by science – by way of an example, imagine a steam engine based on summoning both a fire elemental and a water elemental in small, enclosed space. The Hobbled Griffin could very well run on such “technology.”

Glen says: I have always been enamored with the idea of magical sci-fi!  I think it is really cool and far to under-exploited in fantasy.  The problem though is creating rules for things like steam ships and what have you.  Although I suppose that it existed way back in Alphatia in Mystara, so it could work here with some tweaking.

I think that the technology should be common enough to add fantasy to the world (i.e. magical street lamps, steam ships, and the like) but not end up stealing the show.  I like the dark vibe we have with dead gods, and humanity on the run.  We don’t want to clutter the setting too much with extra noise.  Still though it can add a lot of flavour to the setting, and that’s exciting.

Brian says: One of the simplest methods of preventing “technology” from running amok, in my opinion, is to add a few changes to the way magical items and permanent effects come into existence. I don’t know exactly how we’d go about it, but I’m thinking we use the defiler-method – apply some sort of cost to magic, so it doesn’t go overboard. For example, the Hobbled Griffon’s “engine” was modeled after the older Spelljamming helms – except instead of needing a magic individual to sit in the chair and pilot it effortlessly, instead a slave is strapped down and his life-energy is slowly sucked out of him for “fuel.” Simpler effects (a +3 longsword, and whatnot) may not come with such an ugly cost (or maybe they do, who knows), but massive magical engines or other devices do – that alone should keep the skies from getting too full.

Gods and Primordials Shaped the World (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This is pretty much crucial to my entire concept of this world.  The Planet is a god, stuck in an age-old prison and is possibly dying.  She was put there for trying to sit out the God War.  All of the other gods are dead, but their spirits have helped to shape the world, and continue to do so.

On another thought, since there was nothing but nothingness before the planet was created, I will need to explain the presence of heavenly bodies.  The stars at night, are of course distant bright God Shards with special powers.  This to me, means that they should be glimmering a variety of different colours.  Also, by a bit of abstraction, I think that means that there is no divide between the space and the atmosphere, so a powerful enough flier could fly straight to the stars..  I think that there should be no moons in the sky, although I’m not set on that just in case there are some moon related think (like Lycanthropes) that would be too difficult to change for a minor thing.  Lastly, the sun is in fact a nameless casualty of the god war.  That’s right, the source of life is in fact a dead god burning for eternity.

Brian says: First of all, I love the notion that the sun is the corpse of a god, forever ablaze after a fateful battle with a fiery primordial. That’s just cool shit. I’m perfectly open to a moonless world (I think we can work around the Lycanthropy problem pretty easily), and the idea that the starry sky is actually the cosmic equivalent of Flander’s Fields strikes me as delightfully morbid. While I can get into the lack of a separation between the atmosphere and outer space, I think we need to work out some sort of explanation for why travel to the stars isn’t a common thing. While I think the potential is cool, I don’t think we want to create a new Spelljammer that focuses specifically on that.

Glen says: Yeah I was thinking about the interstellar travel thing, but we can just say that they are incredibly far away, and there is nowhere else to land.  It could make for some cool epic level adventures, building a flying ship to go all the way to land on the sun and so on.  I think that a small thing about the stars that could add flavour is that they are constantly floating around.  This sounds small, but it does mean that there will be no constellations, which makes it harder to navigate long voyages across the oceans.  I’m sure it would still be possible, but getting lost has far more reality in this situation I think, adding to the dangers of our world.

Gods Are Distant (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I take this to mean in a spiritual sense, since a planet god is pretty much as close as you can get to your deity.  The inhabitants of the world, don’t even know HER name, and are never really in communication with HER.  Different sects worship different concepts, or aspects of HER personality.  For example, there is a movement that worships that idea that she is dying, and one that worships her life giving aspects and so on.

Brian says: One possible notion is that the only beings with any avenue of communication with the imprisoned god are the god shards themselves, effectively turning these disembodied remnants of what used to be into prophets of a sort. I also want to be sure we’re on the same page – my read, from what you’ve written, is that the imprisoned god (I’m thinking of allusion-style names, like the Mistress of Shackles, but something that sounds less like a nightclub dominatrix) is the only being capable of granting divine (i.e. paladin/cleric/etc.) classes their abilities. God shards can, and probably do, provide guidance and insight, but clerics could theoretically abandon the teaching of their order’s shard and continue to be a functional cleric. That opens up a lot of possibilities surrounding the concepts of losing faith, turning from your god, etc.

Glen says: Mistress of Shackles is so going to be my new on-line handle!!!!  Errr…maybe not.

And yeah, I wanted to have one god who grants all the powers, but the clerics are of different concepts about their god.  It makes it sort of like the factions from Planescape, but a bit more focused and functional.  I’m not certain of what would happen if a cleric abandons their order and goes rogue.  Perhaps the orders can have central, holy, temples that are conduits to the core of the world.  Like, the Temple of the Order of Death could be in the middle of an inhospitable desert, while the Order of Magic could be floating on a cloud.  If a cleric abandons that order they lose that orders powers (domains, or whatever the hell you call them now), but can pledge allegiance to a new one if need be.  It makes religions a bit more regional, but does add Holy Cities to the game, which could make for some pretty fantastic locations to visit.

Conclusion

Brian says: Alright man, I think we’ve got a pretty good start on our hands. Some crazy concepts, and a few ideas that have serious crazy potential. Since the coin tosses gave you five out of the nine assumptions, I’m going to pick the topic of our next article. Of course knowing us, the topic we start with probably won’t have much to do with the topic we end on. Next time we’ll be starting out on the Efreet. You have anything else you want to say to put this puppy to bed?

Glen says: I’m happy with the way things are going. I want to think about the Efreet thing before posting, it all looks good.

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World Workshop

The World Workshop – The Celestial Blossom

Moving sucks – no surprise there, I know. However, this is a very different move than any I’ve embarked upon before, and the end result is that it’s taken more of my time and attention lately than I’d anticipated. For those of you following this blog, I want to say both thank you for reading and I’m sorry updates have been so few and far between lately.

I’d also love it if I could promise things were going to turn around, but I doubt I could deliver on that. I’ll talk in more detail about the forthcoming move, but the short version is that things are going to be a little sporadic for a couple more weeks.

Now then, on to the World Workshop! Today we’ll be discussing City C – better known to its Eladrin rulers as Surilphu and more commonly referred to as the City of the Celestial Blossom.

When I first conceived of this setting, I decided right away that I wanted the region to be defined by two powerful rivals – rivals that grew to become Kungarde and Magwer. While I wanted there to be a war between the two cities to be a matter of recent history, I didn’t want a “great war” that plunged the entire world into conflict. Which is why I decided the war would be fought on the large island between the two cities. My love of political complexity led me to want a city caught in the thick of the battle, neutral with respect to both sides, and surviving only through its own cunning.

Enter Surilphu – a city that is no match for either Magwer or Kungarde on the fields of either war or commerce, yet which somehow manages to outmaneuver both of them time after time.

Surilphu (which is, incidentally, the name of the entire island as well as the city) was founded as a colony of Ravantamar the Adamantine Forest – a kingdom of the northern elves from across the Sea of Sadaelamar. Ravantamar was an elven nation that rose out of the dark age that followed the fall of Arkhosia and Bael Turath, much like the far-off (and now-fallen) human kingdom of Nerath. At its height, Ravantamar was a loose confederation of elven cities, bound together by a dynasty of Alexander-like conquering kings.

Of course, Ravantamar’s height only lasted for 80 years or so, which is why they don’t get much space in the history books. They made a big mistake and picked a fight with those religious nuts over in Magwer. Maybe I’ll tell that story some other time. The punchline, however, is that the war ended with Magwer victorious, Ravantamar collapsing inward and fading from history, and Surilphu ruled not by elves but by their cousins, the eladrin.

Surilphu is, among other things, a city of abject wonder and delight. Its population is almost exclusively eladrin – not because other races are unwelcome, but because they find the Celestial Blossom to be in many ways overwhelming. The city exists in the natural world and the Feywild at once, and as one travels through the city various arches, doorways, and other areas act as natural portals from one plane to the other. Spires of gleaming crystal rise from the earth in the Feywild, mirrored by buildings of marble in the natural world. As once walks down a street, gradually crossing from one plane to the next, the sights overlap and seem to devour one another. The eladrin seem unaffected, but the other races often find the view both beautiful and disturbing. In some places the two planes bleed together.

Furthermore, the politics are a minefield – Surilphu rose out of cunning and intrigue, and scheming machinations are what keep it strong. Surilphu sits between the two great power of the region, and when those powers make war the Celestial Blossom is always at risk of being crushed between them. To that end, the king of Surilphu plays each power against the other, ensuring Magwer thinks Kungarde is strong and vice-versa. It is in his best interests that both court for his favor and that neither ever receive it. The internal politics are no less complex – the eladrin know that scheming and cunning keep them safe, thus a never-ending series of intrigues and schemes serves as a form of Darwinian guarantee that the man (or woman) upon the throne is the craftiest and most deadly opponent in the game.

If M.C. Escher and Niccolò Machiavelli had a baby, it would grow up to be Surilphu’s city planner.

Ultimately, Surilphu exists to satisfy my urge to have a place that is just different and amazingly cool. I might only set one scene of a single adventure there in an entire campaign, but it’s a scene my players will talk about for a long time to come.

Ultimately I like to imagine a dinner party that is incredibly deadly – not because of magic or weapons, not even because of the possibility of poison (though everyone does have their own food taster) but because one slip, one wrong word and ruin will follow. High-stakes courtly intrigue is the sort of game I’ve always wanted to run but never really been able to pull off. Among other things, you need to have an entire group that’s really into the idea of the “bloodless battle” idea – and you need to be a really smart Dungeon Master, and much as I love it I may not be up to the challenge.

Alright, so that’s Surilphu. I realize I didn’t give much detail, just sort of touched on the neat things that make it iconic in my imagination, but that’s all I have for the moment. My players won’t be going there until the paragon tier, at least, so I don’t think I need to get into any more detail about it just yet.

Cartography fans will be disappointed by the lack of mapping tutorials or new maps today. My optical mouse is one of the things I’ve boxed up, and while some people might be able to do precision Photoshop work with a laptop touchpad, I’m not one of them. No new maps until I get to Ontario, I’m sorry to say.

FuckedWorld

FuckedWorld – Where Shit Be Crazy

One of the things I’m happiest about with this blog is that it’s re-opened some avenues of conversation between me and an old friend. Anyone paying attention to the comments will notice that the most active contributor has been my old friend Glen, whom I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to talk to for quite some time. It’s awesome to keep in touch, but it’s even better to be able to nerd out about gaming and the like.

The fruits of this reunion? Well, I’m pleased to announced FuckedWorld: Where Shit Be Crazy – coming to a blog near you!

The simple fact is, Glen and I both love to create settings, and we also have a tendency to joke about some ridiculous ideas. So now, we’re going to try and combine as many ridiculous ideas as we can, cobbling together the most insane – but still playable – game setting possible.

FuckedWorld is only a working title, for the record.

To get the creative juices pumping, he and I each wrote up a quick bit of introductory fiction, which I’ll post here. Our first, proper article, will be forthcoming soon, I hope.

Glen’s story:

SHE tried to stay out of it. That clearly was not an option. SHE was by all accounts a pacifist, and in times of war that is a virtue worthy of the highest punishment.

We don’t know how the war started, or exactly how long it lasted, all we know is that everyone died in the battles. Everyone except for the pacifist, who received a much worse punishment. For HERHER spirit was trapped inside a giant shell. inaction

As the war ragged on without HER, things got much worse. Eventually in the climactic battle between all of the gods, with the universe hanging in the balance, a catastrophe occurred. It is not know how it started, or what exactly it was. But all we know is that all of the remaining gods were killed in this moment. The souls and bodies of the gods floated about through the multiverse, with some parts of them landing on the shell that SHE was trapped within.

Many of these God Shards, as we now call them, turned into the dwarves, orcs, dragons, humans, and other intelligent races. Some provided important features to the world like the clouds, seas or arcane powers. Many are still to be discovered.

SHE spent eons struggling to escape HER shell to no avail. In recent millennia SHE has stopped struggling. This has allowed us to thrive and prosper on HER shell. However, signs from the wise men have indicated that perhaps SHE has been docile because she is dying.

It is uncertain at the time of writing if this is true or not. If it is, we have no idea how to save HER. Perhaps an undiscovered God Shard can provide us with the answer.

– Vanyyl, sourced by a God Shard of Knowledge.

Brian’s story:

Grajeb stood on the deck of the Hobbled Griffin, picking his teeth with a sliver of unicorn bone. His green face scrunched-up for a half second and then he spat over the the side of the ship, watching the coin-sized droplet of saliva glisten in the light as it sailed down, down, forever down. Then he tossed the sliver into his mouth, crunched it between his molars, and sucked the bitter-tasting marrow down his throat – unicorn bone was supposed to be good for fertility, and his third wife had been nagging about a seventh child.

The goblin captain turned from the blue sky, eyes narrow as he turned toward his first mate. Pekrovak was a hobgoblin, and he was sleeping with Grajeb’s sister (though he thought the wily goblin wasn’t on to him), but he could plot a course through the skies better than any other man, woman, or miscellaneous Grajeb had ever met.

“We need to pick up the pace.” Pekrovak made a face, shrugging.

“I don’t think we can work the humans much harder without killing some of them.” Grajeb stretched his lips tightly against his crooked, yellow teeth – left hand idly tugging on the hoop of gold dangling from his ear, an old nervous tick that ruined him whenever he played cards.

“Do it. If we’re late with this shipment, Pasha Radin will have my head and yours – and that’s one efreet whose good side I want to stay on.” Grajeb grunted, waving a hand dismissively. “We’ll replace the slaves at port – dwarves next time. They work harder.” Pekrovak nodded and left his captain in peace.

Grajeb wandered back to the railing, looking down over the side – staring down to where the ocean wavered back and forth, more than sixty miles below. He slid a hand into his pocket, fished out another sliver of unicorn bone, and began sucking on it idly while musing on baby names.

Half an hour later a human slave collapsed dead in the engine room, blood streaming from his nose and eyes, body twitching with violent convulsions. No one besides Pekrovak noticed.

Because of the dozen-plus e-mails that need to be exchanged between me and Glen to get a single article written up, there’s no reliable update schedule with this one. Those who need their setting creation itch to be scratched will still be able to tune in regularly for the World Workshop (I’ll be posting another one tomorrow, I hope). FuckedWorld is something a little different, that we both hope you’ll enjoy.

World Workshop

The World Workshop – A New Take on an Old Favorite

Today we’re going to be discussing City B, which sits on what I have been calling “Cock Island” but which will, from here on out, be known as Duraun Jörgmadnr (dwarven for “isle of the serpent”).

The latest iteration of our map, finally with some water you might be willing to drink.
The latest iteration of our map, finally with some water you might be willing to drink.

Right off the bat, there were a couple of things I knew about City B – also known as Magwer (its people are known as Magwothi). Mostly I knew that I wanted them to be something a little different – a way to make something familiar and reassuring into something different and frightening. I wanted them to be at ideological odds with Kungarde – which would help explain the pressures that led to the war I alluded to a couple posts earlier. Most of all I wanted them to be the opposite of Kungarde – that is, not a bastion of freedom and racial intermingling – while at the same time not being evil.

Which brought me to my favorite fantasy setting subject – religion.

If you take core assumption #9 (“the gods are distant”) to its logical extreme, it stands to reason that the followers of the gods probably don’t know all that much about the beings they worship. Which opens up all kinds of exciting prospects for different flavors of a single faith coming into conflict with one another – which brings us to Magwer.

Magwer is a theocratic monarchy ruled equally by both king and queen. Specifically, the city traces its true founding back to the mythical figure of Magwoti – chieftain of a human tribe who led his people to the site of Magwer. Below the ground of this site was an already active dwarven city, and Magwoti sought and received the blessing of the dwarven thane to settle the lands above the city – an agreement known as the Deeping Compact. The humans built an aboveground city over the dwarves and the two lived together in peaces and harmony – for about twenty or thirty years.

Magwoti was a warrior and a war-monger, aggressive and brutal in his rule, and his people strayed far from home to make war on their neighbors. Eventually, their neighbors decided that it was perhaps time to be rid of the violent and treacherous Magwothi and banded together to assault the newly-founded city. The battles raged for sixty nights, but ultimately Magwoti was undone and led his people below ground to seek the asylum and aid of the dwarves. Combined, the two people drove out the aggressors and the dwarves remained to assist in the rebuilding.

Seeing the boons of the two people’s cooperation, Magwoti sought to sow the seeds of a new Deeping Compact that would forever unify his people with the dwarves and secure the might of Magwer by arranging for his daughter to wed the dwarven thane’s eldest son. The pledge of marriage secured, Magwoti then murdered the thane, the thane’s ailing wife, and then his own sons – ensuring that the newly-wed couple would inherit all authority over both man and dwarf. This done, he surrendered himself to the city’s own justice and was executed for his crimes – ushering in the reign of the first King and Queen of Magwer. The truth of the story is impossible to verify, but Magwoti’s willingness to perform horrific acts in the pursuit of a noble cause is a facet of the Magwothi character even today.

Unlike the oligarchic republic of Kungarde, Magwer is ruled by a dwarven king and a human queen – when a monarch dies, his replacement is selected by the priesthood of Magwer and the remaining monarch weds the chosen replacement. So it has been, since the death of Magwoti and the dwarven thane.

The priesthood is the other primary power in Magwer – and various priests fill governmental roles typically occupied by nobles in most kingdoms. The city of Magwer recognizes only two true gods – Moradin, god of the forge, and Erathis, goddess of civilization and law – whom they collectively refer to as the Divine Union. The priesthood acknowledges that a few other gods existed at the beginning of all, but have since been slain – specifically they acknowledge the previous existences of Corellon (who was weak, and thus died during the Dawn War against the primordials), Kord (who was slain in battle during the Dawn War – his final droplets of blood carrying on his legacy to its eventual inheritor: Magwoti), Io (who was tricked and betrayed – you guessed it! – during the Dawn War by the demon who is now known as Tiamat), and Pelor (the sole divine survivor of the Dawn War beyond Moradin and Erathis – who later betrayed the Divine Union and was struck down by them). They regard most other deities as demons or devils (Tiamat and Asmodeus) or non-existant fabrications of barbarians or pathetic fools (Avandra and Sehaine). The only other “gods” with a place in Magwer theology are Ioun, Bane, and the Raven Queen – all of whom have a subordinate role, like the saints do in Christianity. There are no Magwothi priests of Bane – only priests of Moradin, who belong to the Order of Bane (a politically important distinction).

Considering how Magwer is not the starting point for my campaign, I think that’s enough for now, so I’ll toss a few additional details out and call it a night. Magwer is very intolerant of religions that conflict with their own, considers the dragonborn a slave-race (for a couple reasons I might touch on next time), and tends to regard the divine power source coming from anyone who doesn’t worship Moradin or Erathis as “witchcraft” or demon-powered sorcery.

Next time I’ll be looking at City C – or Surilphu as the locals call it. A city of predominantly eladrin, Surilphu was once a colony of Ravantamar – an elven nation to the north that rose to prominence after the fall of Arkhosia. Lots more for mapping enthusiasts after the jump.

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World Workshop

The World Workshop – What’s in a Name?

A whole hell of a lot, as it turns out. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

It’s come to my attention that my somewhat painfully detailed description of how I’m mapping out this setting isn’t really of interest to everyone. Specifically those not interested in how to map or who don’t own Photoshop, may not find it very entertaining. Thus, my habit of intermingling setting development stuff with mapping tips, may make these articles of zero interest to some people.

To which I respond: my bad, I apologize. From here on out I’ll be writing setting development up top, detailed mapping instructions behind a jump. Hopefully that works out best. As always, comments are open.

So, naming. A lot comes down to names, at least for me. Names are power – a silly superstition, but true. I mean, City A? Who the fuck gets all inspired with awe at the majestic name of City A? Nobody, that’s who.

More than helping me to not feel like a moron when referring to a location, names inspire imagery and concepts. Baron Roderic summons up a very different mental picture than Rajah Vishal, doesn’t it? Naming, customs and culture are all tied together, at least in my mind, and having a name is (for me) often the first step in figuring out the greater details of a people, setting, city, or whatever.

The latest version of the setting map. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The latest version of the setting map. Click to see an enlarged copy.

The real development work begins today – after all, picking names for places (descriptive names at least) requires some decision on language. Picking the language used to name a place usually gives an indication of the dominant people in the region – and if it doesn’t, it suggests some sort of story about the place (if a dwarven city has an elvish name there’s got to be a reason, after all).

As an aside, having given it some thought, I’ve decided to go with the “ten languages” concept introduced in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I’m typically not a huge fan of the idea of a “Common” language spoken by all humans and at least understood by most other races, but like I said before – I’m embracing the core assumptions of the game, in favor of making this as smooth a learning experience as possible for my players. My players will be learning how to smash orcs and slaughter kobolds – they can worry about how to communicate next time around, maybe.

Today I’ll be sinking my teeth into what will be the starting region for my upcoming campaign, the area surrounding City A – known as Kungarde to its inhabitants. Built on the ruins of Nask Arag, an older city that belonged to the tiefling empire of Bael Turath, Kungarde was settled by one of the human tribes (the Kungathi) native to the surrounding area after that empire’s fall. Several other surrounding tribes migrated in later, resulting in a human-dominated population, with tieflings forming the largest minority.

I mentioned last time that Kungarde is a mercantile power where money is power, and that’s absolutely true – money determines everything. Whether or not you’re permitted to take up permanent residence in Kungarde is based on whether or not you can pay. Citizenship is likewise expensive, and most citizens are merchants. The city is ruled by a council of 200 Merchant-Princes – who acquire their seats on the council by auction. It shouldn’t be all that surprising then that most of the laws and edicts passed by the council are pretty self-serving. “The rich get richer” isn’t seen as a problem by the government of Kungarde – it’s seen as proof that the system is working.

One of the reasons I decided to have the city this way, is that it makes it very easy to introduce almost any concept into the city at a moment’s notice with the explanation “he/she/it is rich.” Thus Kungarde is the most cosmopolitan place in the region. Every player race can reasonably be found there, though some are more common than others. More than just player races are welcome in Kungarde, however – any race that follows the rules and has the coin is welcome. There are probably less than one hundred goblins living in Kungarde (and probably less than a dozen that are full citizens), but that’s not because goblins aren’t allowed in the city – it’s because most goblins don’t have the coin, and those that do typically break the laws and get themselves executed/exiled within their first year. The ones that last are civilized enough to behave (or clever enough to not get caught).

The same goes for the gods. All the gods presented in the Player’s Handbook have a presence in Kungarde, to varying degrees – Avandra’s certainly got the most temples and shrines (as well as the vast majority of temples/shrines built on government coin), as she’s the goddess of trade, while Bahamut or Moradin have very small followings. What I said about unexpected (i.e. “evil”) races, above, also applies to gods – so long as their followers have the coin to build temples and pay taxes, any order or religion can take up residence. Some are more likely than others, naturally – Bane, who is (at his heart) a war god who teaches that the strong are entitled to rule the weak, certainly has an active order in Kungarde. The Cult of Asmodeus, meanwhile, does not – they could if his followers weren’t so overtly evil. Freedom of religion doesn’t exempt a person from obeying those “no murdering” laws the city has.

So that’s a brief look at Kungarde. Next time I’ll be digging into “City B,” also known as Magwer – the largest and most powerful city on Duraun Jörgmadnr (formerly known as “Cock Island”).

Mapping stuff after the jump.

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World Workshop

The World Workshop – Major Cities and Terrain Colors

So, ten minutes after writing a post on how I won’t be posting much for the next few weeks, here I am writing a new post. What can I say? I’m tired and worn out and, though it does take concentration, mapping soothes me. I doubt I’ll be finished with this post for a few days yet, but we’ll see. (Edit: Obviously I was right.)

Where we left off last time: three major landmasses, a few smaller ones, and murky "water." Click to see an enlarged copy.
Where we left off last time. Click to see an enlarged copy.

So, when I left off last time I’d created an outline of our new setting: three major landmasses, a few smaller ones, and some murky “water” (that will look better later on, I swear). I mentioned having intentionally creating a couple landmasses to somewhat resemble other objects – enough so to account for them having interesting names, but not so much that they look fake.

Now, before I get into the next steps of mapping, I want to discuss cities. There are three major cities in the region – “major” in the sense that every other city, tribe, clan, or kingdom is defined by its relationship (or lack of a relationship) with those three. I haven’t decided on any names yet, so for now I’ll just refer to them as City A, B, and C.

City A is the largest and wealthiest city in the region, and is in the north-west of the largest landmass (the big one on the right). One of the two major powers, City A is inland, but there’s another allied port city not far away. The port city is effectively ruled by City A – and in another couple centuries, assuming both cities continue to grow, they’ll likely merge into one massive metropolis. A mercantile society, in City A the wealthy are the ruling class. Money and power don’t influence one another – they’re the same thing. I’m not positive on cultural influences yet, but City A is definitely the closest thing to a “melting pot” in the entire region – so long as they have coin, men and women of any ethnicity are typically welcome.

City B, meanwhile, is the third most populated and second-wealthiest city is the area. The undisputed power on “Cock Island” (that snake-shaped landmass in the top-left that I really need to rename), City B is a port city on the east of the peninsula. I’m not entirely sure how politics is going to work here, but it’ll be different from City A – I’m thinking some sort of theocratic system. I’m not positive on the details yet, but they’re definitely a less tolerant society. Not evil, just a little more rigid about their culture – and a little more inclined to defend it proactively, if you get my drift.

City C, meanwhile, is not on one of the three major landmasses. Instead it exists on the large island between Cities A and B. City C is more your traditional monarchy, though without the “divine right” overtones. City B is all about being fingered by the gods to take the lead – this king takes his authority through slightly more secular, “I’m six moves ahead of you on the chessboard and I have an army” methods. City C is also only a major power because of its precarious relationship with the other two – who fought a war that ended about twenty years ago, on City C’s island. I happen to like the idea of a crafty, politically scheming king (or queen, I haven’t decided yet) who is constantly playing a balancing game between these two major powers, all to maintain his own neutrality and his own independent rule.

There are also two other important cities of note. New A is the second-most populated city in the region, is a port city in the north-eastern corner of last major landmass in the bottom left of the map, and is (unsurprisingly) a subject of City A, which founded it. And lastly there’s Io’Rasvim – which, translated from Draconic, means Treasure of Io. One of the original seven city-states that formed the ancient (and long-fallen) dragonborn Empire of Arkhosia, Io’Rasvim is a ruin – surrounded by mystery and rumor, whispered of but never visited. I’ll discuss it in depths some other time – I mainly mention it because I like that name, and don’t want to forget it. Perhaps you’ve already assumed this, but Io’Rasvim can be found on the “claw” island.

Alright, now that I have a better idea of what’s going on where (at least the broad strokes), I head back to the map to add some more details. So far I’ve got just a broad idea of where the landmasses are – today I’ll be adding some coloration to define different terrain types (plains and grasslands and desert).

Also, before I start, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where it is due – I’m creating these maps using a method derived from Ascension’s Atlas tutorial over at the Cartographer’s Guild. He’s a genius, and I’m just lucky he’s willing to share. 90% of this method is his, if not more so.

Picking up where we left off last time, grid (highlight), grid and base should all be hidden, the other layers should be visible. Duplicate ocean twice – name the new layers hills and land (from top to bottom, your layers should go: base, hills, land, ocean). Hide hills and start working in land, then Filter -> Render -> Lighting Effects. This brings up a panel that lets you control a bunch of lighting settings. Set the Style to Omni (make sure “On” is checked), Intensity to 6, Matte to -100, Material to 100, Exposure to 0, Ambience to 8, Texture Channel to Red (make sure “White is high” is checked), and Height to 100. Then drag the radius of the light source out so it is as wide as the entire map is. Lastly, you’re going to create four more light sources, each one of the same size and using the same settings as the first. Place one on each corner of the map, and one in the center (if you’re not grokking the written instructions, check out the screenshot) and then hit OK.

Word to the wise, the larger your map is, the more memory this takes. It took my computer almost two minutes to apply the effect after I hit OK – I strongly recommend saving both before and after you apply a major effect. Trust me, if your system crashes you’ll be glad you did.

Alright, now keep land as the active layer, and then ctrl-click on base (the little preview pane on the left, not the name itself) to select all your landmasses. Invert the selection (Shift-Ctrl-I) so the water is selected, then delete and deselect. Now we’ll add some coloration with Layer -> Layer Style -> Gradient Overlay. Set the angle to 120 degrees, the blend mode to “hard light,” the opacity to 100%, and then click on the gradient color (the actual color, not the drop-down arrow to the right of it) to bring up the gradient editor. An ordinary gradient transitions evenly from one color to another. We’re changing that by creating four points of transition (called a “stop”). Each stop is represented by the little color-arrow on the bottom of the gradient, and you add new ones just by clicking the finger pointer anywhere in the area. The stops should have the following settings:

  1. Color: Papyrus (RGB: 240, 230, 190). Position: 5%.
  2. Color: Dark flesh (RGB: 218, 192, 148). Position: 25%.
  3. Color: Olive Green (RGB: 64, 80, 24). Position: 60%.
  4. Color: Olive Green (RGB: 64, 80, 24). Position: 100%.
Some terrain coloration makes the regions of our map more distinct, giving us an idea of what sort of places these landmasses are. Click to see an enlarged copy.
Some terrain coloration makes the regions of our map more distinct, giving us an idea of what sort of places these landmasses are. Click to see an enlarged copy.

Hit OK, which will close the gradient editor, and then jump to Outer Glow in the panel on the left. Leave the blend mode on “screen,” reduce the opacity to 25%, change the color to a light blue (RGB: 64, 200, 255), and set the size to 45px. Hit OK, and you can see the results on the right.

Just a quick note about that gradient overlay – if I were mapping an entire world, instead of doing an in-depth mapping of a region, I’d have left the angle at 90 degrees – maintaining a strict North <–> South terrain transition. I’d have also added a 5th stop using the color white, to represent the arctic regions in the far north. So, if you’re following along and trying to map a whole world? Now you now.

So, we’ve got some basic terrain definition and coloration set up. Next time I’ll toss in some hills and mountains. See you then.

World Workshop

The World Workshop – Mapping Basics

I’m big on geography, when it comes to settings. More importantly, I prefer to get at least a rough sketch of the area done early on in the process – making all the important decisions about a setting first, then mapping it out, leads to things being too neat in my opinion. Much like having a history that’s well thought-out and logical, a geography that perfectly complements the details of the setting almost immediately rings false and kills the suspension of disbelief.

The Earth is as it is, and we have to make do with it. I tend to inflict similar inconveniences/cruelties on the population of the worlds I design.

So today, I set out to really sink my teeth into the geography of this world and at least get started on a proper map. I’ll warn you right now, this article is going to read in a lot of ways like a Photoshop tutorial.

Also, credit where it’s due – until I discovered Ascension’s Atlas Style tutorial over at the Cartographer’s Guild, my mapping skills were mediocre at best. I used mapping software like Campaign Cartographer 3 or Fractal Mapper (both perfectly good programs) and depended on them to do 95% of the work. If you’re looking to learn how to design your own, great-looking maps, I strongly recommend Ascension’s tutorial. I no longer follow every single step to the letter, but it is still my main reference when mapping.

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 first off, let me get that sketch back up here. If you take a look at the enlarged version, you’ll notice that the map is 15 “units” long and 10 “units” wide. I haven’t decided how big the area is, so each unit is going to wind up being somewhere between 100 and 200 km. I’ll figure that out later.

Before I do anything else, I need to get the basic file set up. I’ll be doing all this mapping in Adobe Photoshop CS4. I’ve also decided that I want the option of taking this thing into Kinko’s (or wherever) and getting a decent poster map run off if I want it. I check common poster sizes online, and decide to map a map that’s 30 inches x 20 inches. Since I want it to be of print quality, I set the resolution to 300 pixels per inch (pppi) – if I were just going to display this on the web, I’d set it for 72 ppi, because browsers can’t display more than that. I give it a white background, and get started.

The basic grid, 15 by 10. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The basic grid, 15 by 10. Click to see an enlarged copy.

Next I set up the grid. This is pretty easy, I just do a 1 pixel-wide straight line every 600 pixels, dividing the entire map into 15 sectors horizontally, and 10 sectors vertically. I do this in a separate layer, which I call grid. The only problem is that, because the file is so big, I need to zoom way the fuck out (8.33%) to see all of it at once – which means I can’t actually see my grid. So I create another layer above it, named grid (highlight). I ctrl-click on grid to select the same area, then hit Select -> Modify -> Expand and set the expansion to 5 pixels. The selection widens by 5px on every size, and I fill it with bright red. Now my grid lines are 11 pixels wide, and perfectly visible. Ugly, but visible. I hide grid for now – the red grid is just a guide, I’ll worry about how it looks on display later.

Okay, now to actually start mapping. Just as an aside, I’m going to ignore the grid and grid (highlight) layers. Unless I specifically mention them, they always stay on the very top.

The primordial soup that your world will rise out of. Don't worry, it'll get prettier. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The primordial soup that your world will rise out of. Don't worry, it'll get prettier. Click to see an enlarged copy.

First of all, make sure your colors are set to the default black & white (D) and select the background layer. Filter -> Render -> Clouds, then rename the layer clouds. Right-click on clouds, select Duplicate Layer and name the resulting layer ocean. Create a new, empty layer, and name it base. Then fill (Shift-F5) base with 50% gray (you don’t need to change your color selection, 50% gray is near the bottom of the drop-down). At this point your layers should be in the following order (top to bottom): base, ocean, clouds. Set the blend mode for base to “hard mix” and you’ll get a sort of Rorschach-looking mess, displayed above.

Next, make sure you’re working in the ocean layer. Select the Brush tool (B). I use the “Soft Mechanical 500 pixel” brush, but keep in mind my map is 9000 x 6000 pixels, so that’s not that big – select an appropriate brush accordingly. Set flow to 10%, and then use the brush to shape your landmass – white is land, black is the water.

The basic outline of my setting: three major landmasses and a half-dozen or so smaller islands. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The basic outline of my setting: three major landmasses and a half-dozen or so smaller islands. Click to see an enlarged copy.

The final results are on the left. You may notice a couple of details about my landmasses, specifically the large one in the top-left and the island to the right of the middle. I like islands that vaguely resemble things, like the “boot” of Italy. So the grouping of islands in the lower-middle, for example, looks like a three-toed foot with claw on the heel. And, while I’ve given the peninsula in the top-left the nickname “Cock Island,” it’s actually supposed to resemble a serpent.

I’m actually very hopefully that, once I get some more terrain features on there, it looks a little less phallic. I guess we’ll see.

To finish up mapping for this week, right-click on ocean and duplicate it – the resulting layer will be called ocean copy and should appear right underneath base. Shift-click on base and then on ocean copy so that both layers are selected. Right-click on either one and select Merge Layers. The end result is that base and ocean copy should combine into a single layer, called base (everything will still look the same, however). Hide the grid (highlight) layer and then, making sure that you’re working inside base, Select -> Color Range, set Fuzziness to 200, then click on some of the black “water” area with the eyedropper, then hit OK. Hit the delete key, and all your solid black “water” will be replaced with a sort of murky, cloudy mixture. You can make the grid visible again now, if you want. This is as good a spot as any to stop, for now.

You may be wondering how this is going to turn into a map that doesn’t look like some kid’s crayon scrawling – a kid who only has black and white crayons. I wondered the same thing – but trust me, something good is going to come out of this. You’ll be surprised.

Also, I realize I spent more time talking about Photoshop layers and brush flow fuzziness whatever-the-fuck than I actually did about the setting itself. My plan is to mix discussing mapping techniques with overall setting development, but those of you reading may only be interested in one subject or another. I could separate the two, if people would rather be able to selectively choose which to read. Comments are on and opinions are welcome.