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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Shameless Plugs

Shameless Plug – Maps, Languages, Sports, and the Pater familias

This week, as I’ve said, I’m pretty busy so I haven’t had a lot of time to look for “cool shit” – which means that what I’m plugging this week is mostly stuff I’ve come across incidentally or in the pursuit of some other aim.

First of all, as I’m sure anyone following this blog has noticed, I’m all about mapping these days. Which means I’ve got a big plug for the Cartographer’s Guild, which is basically just a forum for map-making enthusiasts (and some pros, it looks like – I haven’t had time to dig deep just yet). I recently downloaded a new tutorial by Ascension (the CG member whose tutorial I’m mostly following while doing the World Workshop articles) – this one about mapping cities – which I’m looking forward to digging into, after I finish all my school assignments. Also, a secondary map-themed plug for the Athasian Cartographer’s Guild, which seems to be less of a community than it is a place to get all kinds of Dark Sun maps and mapping resources.

Sticking with the World Workshop stuff, I want to give a plug to Sean K. Reynolds’  awesome articles on the Dwarven, Elven, and Draconic languages (which originally appeared in Dragon Magazine issues 278, 279, and 284) and can now be found on Fantasist.net (which I haven’t had a chance to check out beyond those three articles yet). I used the stuff on the Draconic language in naming the city of Io’Rasvim, and plan on making good use of the other articles as well.

A plug also goes out to the HBO documentary Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, which is about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s concurrent rise to NBA superstardom, and the incredible rivalry that existed between them. People who know me, know I’m not really a sports guy, but I found this movie fascinating – if nothing else, it provides a fascinating insight on how to create a rivalry with a foe who isn’t really a “villain.”

And, lastly, a great big plug goes out to my dad. I’ve always had the habit of inventing words out of nowhere, and I always assumed that was just something I did that didn’t come from anywhere. Turns out it runs in the family, as he busted out the following gem yesterday afternoon as a way of explaining a bad habit he and I both possess:

pre-cras-ti-nate: to be completely aware of one’s tendency to procrastinate, to the point of being able to plan in advance to not do something

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.

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.