Practicing the art and skill of building worlds.


Sorry for the delay…

“Delay…” I have a gift for understatement. World-fu will be moving to my blog at (which has been under wraps for a while and still isn’t completely finished) sometime within the next few months.

That’s all for now! More info to come.


Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 6

In part 5, we designed a whole adventure, but we’re not done yet! Depending on how we decide to run our game, a dungeon map might be in order.

Now, first off, you should know that I’m not talking about those old-school megadungeons, which are totally cool, but not my style — I subscribe to the dungeon-as-a-metaphor school of thought. (Although I’m not talking about an “adventure flowchart” at this point either. More on that later.) Instead, I’m talking about the map of an area where there will be exploration and encounters.[1]

Step 7:
Make some decisions about your dungeon — what exactly the players/characters want from it, how it should start and end, points of interest (including hazards), and rewards you want to give the players. And then… well… get to drawing!

To map an explorable area, think of it as a whole adventure in miniature. Remember the things I said every adventure needs (goal, hook, obstacles, climax, reward)? A “dungeon” needs similar things.

  • An exit (goal) — this is where the players are trying to get to. Sometimes, the exit is the same as the entrance, but it can be difficult to make a dungeon “flow” when that’s the case. Some ideas about that later.
  • An entrance (hook) — there needs to be a way into the area, of course. A path through the woods, a narrow alley, a cave behind a waterfall, a mountain pass, or just a big ol’ door. Whatever works.
  • Points of interest (and, of course, obstacles) — well, you could just just have a straight path with nothing in it, but that hardly warrants mapping, right? So fill it up with interesting things to discover, and keep in mind that not all of them have to be pleasant.[2]  Put one of these points of interest in each “room” of the dungeon.
  • Object (climax) — it’s not just about getting in and out; the players are wandering about this area for a reason — what is it? In any explorable area, they’re generally looking for something — an item, a monster, or just for loot. The “climax” of a dungeon is the shrine where the ancient artifact is entombed, or the lair of that powerful vampire, or that gigantic pile of gold. The players want something, so give it to them! Or… you know, at least wave it in their faces until they drool.[3]
  • Reward — the PCs will doubtlessly pick up a few things (items, gold, experience, information) during the course of exploring the dungeon. Rather than letting it all be determined randomly, though, try to tailor a small list of planned rewards according to your players. Make it worth everyone’s while.[4]

Question time!

  • What is the object of this dungeon? For this particular dungeon, the object is to get the captured girls. They will be trapped in a web cage near the end of the dungeon.
  • Where does the dungeon start? The entrance is basically just a giant hole-in-the-ground cave entrance.
  • Where does the dungeon end? The caves will lead into the bottom of a ruined tower.
  • What interesting things would I like to put in this dungeon? An underground river, a place where the spiders will attack from above, the lair of an unrelated monster, a room that is empty (at least, by the time the PCs get to it), a “cage” containing the captured girls, and the bottom floor of the tower.

Now, start planning out your dungeon. Start with a shape you like, then find places for all your points of interest. If you end up with rooms you don’t know what to do with, feel free to come up with more things, or just leave them empty. Here, I added a nest of baby spiders and a cave-in.

As I’m drawing it out, I try to make sure the dungeon “flows” by drawing a line through the path from the entrance to the exit. While there are some optional side caves (not so optional if the characters fall in the river in the large area — they’ll be washed down the river to the small side-area,) all of the important points are on that line, without much backtracking or wandering.

At this point, you’re pretty much done. Label the rooms (with letters or numbers or something) for reference, so you can keep track of your notes on them. You can just describe the rooms as the players go through them, and they never have to see this mess. If you want (and of course I do) to go all out, you can redraw it to use for displaying or for a virtual tabletop or whatever.

Here’s my finished map, and my notes for each room. You might have noticed (here, and in the last post) that I haven’t included any monster stats or die rolls or anything — I’ll decide these things when I decide what system I’m going to use (right now, probably Chimera) but for now, these notes are enough for me.

  • [a] — A large hole in the ground leads down into this cave. Fist-sized spiders scurry out of the way down the tunnel as the characters enter.
  • [b] — A large, rocky cavern covered in spiderwebs. A 15-foot-wide crack runs through it, and water can be heard flowing at the bottom of it. (Characters who fall in will be swept through some tunnels and come out in [d] where the river slows down.) There are four tunnels leading out of this cavern (not including the entrance), two of which are on the other side of the crack. When the characters get about ten feet from the  entrance, a group of giant spiders will drop down around them and attack.
  • [c] — Little spiders scurry all around this room. At the sight of the characters, they will  flee to an egg-laden web on one side of the room, where a huge spider sits. On the other side of the room there is a tunnel. If the characters get within ten feet of the web, the giant spider will rush out to attack them; otherwise she will stay put and protect the eggs.
  • [d] — A small (but deep) lake is here.
  • [e] — This room is devoid of spiders. There are tree tunnels leading out of it. The tunnel to [g] will collapse when a character attempts to walk through it.
  • [f] — This tunnel seems to be a dead end. It ends in an odd wall of what seems to be tightly-packed, uniformly-shaped pebbles. (Actually a giant lizard’s skin — it is sleeping in its lair.) If disturbed, it will awaken and attack. If badly injured, it will flee back into its lair and up through a tunnel to the surface. The lair itself is just a hole leading up to the surface. The ancient remains of an adventurer may be here.
  • [g] — There is an odd pile of rocks against one wall. A group of spiders guards this room. If the characters did not collapse the tunnel to [f], one of the spiders will immediately flee through it, never to be seen again; otherwise, it will attempt to flee through the other tunnel. There is some web above the tunnel; if disturbed, it will cause the tunnel to collapse.
  • [h] — A cage of web surrounds a small group of young girls, who cry for help when the characters approach. Several will point furiously upward toward the characters when they come through the tunnel from [b]. A giant spider lurks above the tunnel from [b]; it will immediately attack the last character to come through the tunnel.
  • [i] — The remains of a storage area are here. Whatever was stored here is long since decayed and useless. There are a few broken wooden crates and barrels, all empty. A ruined stone staircase is here, going up. If it escaped through the tunnel to [b], the cowardly spider will be here; it will flee up the stairs when the characters enter the room.

[1] This isn’t sufficiently different from a dungeon map that I’ve felt the need to find a new name for it, but different enough that I feel the need to clarify. Suffice to say that though I’m calling them “dungeon maps,” the maps do not necessarily have to be of dungeons. Just explorable areas.

[2] Or, for that matter, horrific. If everything the players inspect tries to eat them, they’ll stop trying to inspect things, and you don’t want that. Carrot and stick.

[3] A postponed climax can make a great hook for the next adventure, if used well and sparingly. Maybe the characters approach the shrine, only to find the ancient artifact already gone! Perhaps the lich escapes, cursing the characters and vowing revenge. Maybe the pile of gold is more trouble than it’s worth. Do this too often, though, and your players will start to feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

[4] Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that every dungeon needs to have a sword, a dagger, a bow, and a magic scroll. Players are interested in more than just shiny new pieces of equipment. If a player is really into his character, hint at information related to the character’s personal goals or backstory. If another player likes to roleplay, include a new NPC that can be used as a source of roleplaying opportunities. For a player who’s something of a know-it-all, provide clues to a mystery that he can figure out so he can feel smart — and so you can show off your setting, of course. Find a way to let a player use a skill he’s really proud of, especially if his interest in that subject is unique among the group. If one player put a ridiculous amount of points into the dancing skill, find a reason for him to shake that moneymaker. Know your players, not just their characters, and let everybody feel special every once in a while. And yes, drop some shinies on them occasionally, too!

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 5

The following was originally posted on my old blog on October 10, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

In part 4, we took our list of encounters and made some brief outlines for adventures. In this part, we’re going to take one of them and turn it into a full adventure.

Step 6:
Take your outline and expand it into a full adventure. Jot down a goal, a hook, obstacles, a climax, and a reward, then lay down your adventure step by step, making a note of any NPCs, monsters, or special items you need to create and anywhere that the adventure can branch according to choices the PCs make. Rinse and repeat for as many adventures as you want.

Each adventure needs several things:

  • Goal: What is the end goal for this quest? (Defeat the evil hydra? Protect the duke? Rescue the princess? Escape the minotaur’s labyrinth? Find the buried treasure? Deliver a letter to the king?)
  • Hook: While it’s possible for the PCs to just wander into the middle of one of the encounters on the map, it’s much more likely that you’re going to have to lure them there. The hook is how you do that. What makes the PCs want to get involved? At its simplest, the hook is how the PCs learn that there is an adventure to be had.
  • Obstacles: If it was as easy as walking up and taking the treasure, it wouldn’t be any fun, would it? What do the PCs have to get past to achieve the Goal? If you put together an outline in the previous step, you probably already have an idea of what these will be.
  • Climax: The goal is almost at hand, the obstacles have been beaten, only one more thing stands in the way…. The climax is what the rest of the adventure builds to. The point at which the PCs win or lose.
  • Reward: What are the PCs going to get for completing this adventure? Fortune? Fame? Experience? A warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts? You’ve got to give them something, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be money and items.

6A: Brainstorm

On this section of the map here, I have a road through the forest (called the Hollowwood) with some villages along it, and inside the forest I have a nest of giant spiders, a poison glade, and an abandoned, ruined, tower. The spiders’ territory includes the road through those woods, so lets say the villages there are being bothered by them. But towns being attacked by monsters is a little boring, right? So lets come up with something a little more interesting…. What if the spiders aren’t attacking the towns… what if they’re kidnapping people in the night? What if the villagers don’t know that it’s spiders at all? People disappearing in the middle of the night could easily look like something even more sinister. Vampires, evil spirits, and dark magic are all good scapegoats. Maybe there’s even a nearby wizard to blame it on…. After a bit of brainstorming, I’ve got my plot.

6b: Essentials

  • Goal: Discover the reason behind the disappearances of several young women in the villages along Hollow Road, and put a stop to it.
  • Hook: The ruler of the region wants these disappearances to stop, and is offering a reward to anyone who can solve the problem.
  • Obstacles:
    • There is some debate on what is causing the disappearances — the PCs will have to investigate for themselves.
    • The forest, infested with giant spiders, is out of control and dangerous.
    • Once they have found the ruined tower, the PCs will have to figure out how to get to it. They can…
      • …go straight through the spiders’ lair, and take the underground tunnels.
      • …go around the lair, through a poisonous glade, and climb the rocky cliff.
      • …go the long way around, through the forest and hills and risk getting lost.
  • Climax: When they get into the tower, the PCs will reach the Spider Queen, a highly intelligent — and quite mad — giant spider who is controlling all the others and forcing them to bring her victims from the villages.
  • Reward: The favor of a local ruler, some loot.

6C: Adventure

The Bloody Countess

  1. The PCs hear rumors of disappearances along the Hollow Road. The ruler of the region, Count Alevor of Lorhaven, is offering a reward (up to the GM) to anyone who can solve this problem.
  2. If the PCs investigate, they can learn several things:
    • The villagers that are being taken are almost exclusively young women.
    • Many of the families (those that can afford it) are offering rewards to anyone who can find the girls.
    • Scratching sounds were heard in the houses of the girls that were abducted, as if something with claws was wandering around outside — or even inside — the house. (It was the sound of the giant spiders climbing on the walls of the house.)
    • No footprints were found anywhere. The villager who gives the PCs this knowledge will speculate that whatever kidnapped the girl must have been able to fly. (This is false — the spiders just did not leave any footprints that were recognizable as such.)
    • One girl was taken while meeting her sweetheart in secret late one night. The young man should have seen everything, however he can not remember a thing from that night. He has been sick in bed since it happened, and has strange bite marks on his neck. (He was bitten by one of the spiders. He will eventually recover.)
    • Strands of spider silk were found in the room of a girl who was abducted. A villager saw a huge spider web when he went hunting in the forest recently. He had heard rumors of giant spiders attacking hunters deep in the forest, but has never heard of them going anywhere near the villages.
    • All of the villages on the Hollow Road have been affected except for Fellwick. The NPC who gives the PCs this knowledge may also have heard rumors of a dark wizard living in that area. (This may lead to the PCs chasing after the sorcerer of Fellwick Forest, but he is just a red herring.)
    • If the PCs spend a night in one of the villages, looking for whatever is taking the girls, they may see or be attacked by spiders, which flee into the forest. If the party has a young female character, she may be kidnapped by the spiders.
  3. One way or another, the PCs will eventually have to make their way through the forest, which has several dangers.
    • Groups of spiders wander the forest, trying to keep out intruders. The PCs could come across a small scouting party that attacks on sight.
    • The forest is home to a few other types of monsters, though most of them have been pushed out by the spiders recently. The PCs may encounter an animal or monster that has been injured by, is fighting off, or is being driven off by the spiders.
    • One of the kidnapped girls, Winbri Toravest, has attempted to escape from the spiders. She is being chased by a large group of spiders. If saved, she can offer information about the spiders and their lair. Her father, Arsam Toravest, is a merchant who will reward the PCs for any information regarding her.
    • The PCs will eventually come upon a huge cavern in the ground filled with spiders — mostly small ones that will flee at the sight of them. Skeletons wrapped in spider silk are all over the cave. From the mouth of the cave, the PCs can also see a ruined tower in the distance, looming above the forest on a rocky hilltop. Attempting to go around the spider pit toward the tower will take the PCs through…
    • …A glade between the hills filled with a light mist. The PCs will encounter no spiders here, but will find dead ones curled up on the forest floor. The PCs will begin to feel light-headed after a little wandering in the  misty glade. The PCs will notice huge flowers blooming here, and if they examine them, they will find spiders stuck to the insides of the flowers, partially digested. After some time in the glade, PCs must resist a poison that causes paralysis.
  4. The tunnels in the spider pit will lead all the way to a ruined tower. This is a pretty linear dungeon-crawl, with mostly giant spiders in the PCs’ way.
    • If the group decided to bypass the tunnels and go around to the tower’s door (either by walking the long way through the forest, or by going through the poison glade and climbing up the rocky hill), they will find it barricaded shut — bulging outward ever so slightly from where things inside the tower have been crammed up against it.
    • A clever party might still be able to find ways around this by climbing the tower walls and going in through a large hole near the top of the tower.
  5. The plot will culminate in a battle with the Spider Queen and her minions. Upon getting inside the tower, the group will find it covered in bloody spiderwebs. An absolutely massive spider sits at the back of the tower, being served by several other spiders. If the PCs do not immediately attack, she will not be hostile, but rather, curious. She will ask if the PCs think she is beautiful, and will ask for lessons in “the art” from any mages in the group. If she is asked, she will say that she has been taking girls from the villages because she believes their blood keeps her young. If the PCs attack, call her ugly, or refuse her requests, she will order her minions to attack. When half of them fall, she will attack herself. When in danger, she will attempt to flee through the hole in the top of the tower and into the depths of the forest. If she is attacked while on the outside of the tower, she may fall into the poisonous glade, where she will be rendered immobile by the toxic mist.

6D: Details


Count Alevor of Lorhaven

  • The count is a stylish, haughty young man in his early twenties, who inherited the title of Count when his father died some time ago. He is accompanied by his viscount, Wrivyn.
  • The Count is widely considered to be a self-absorbed good-for-nothing, but he seems to have a genuine interest in this case.
  • If the PCs are sufficiently important, Count Alevor may deign to speak to them himself about the matter, in which case he will tell the PCs everything he knows — that all the kidnappings have been of young girls, that they all have happened at night with no witnesses, and the names of the villages that have had the most abductions. Otherwise, the PCs will be turned away and told to come back when they’ve sorted the matter out.

Viscount Wrivyn of Lorhaven

  • The viscount is a stately, grey-haired man in his late fifties. He does most of work involved in running the region, and is generally exasperated by the inexperienced Count’s antics.
  • The viscount, usually working, is still vastly more approachable than the Count. If the PCs seek him out, he might be convinced to spare a moment to tell them what they know about the disappearances — that is, the same things the Count knows. He will also warn the PCs not to stray into Fellwick Forest, a little ways north of Hollow Road — that it is a place of dark magic.

Arsam Toravest

  • This merchant is a chubby, well-dressed man in his early forties. He is a good-natured fellow, but currently very distraught.
  • He is on his way from Lorhaven to Fellwick, and is currently staying in one of the villages on Hollow Road. His daughter was taken several nights ago, and he will not leave until he has found out what happened to her. He will pay for any information that could help him find his daughter.
  • The PCs can earn his favor by saving Winbri Toravest from the spiders in the Hollowwood.

Winbri Toravest

  • She is rather pretty, in her late teens, and well-dressed compared to the village girls.
  • She is the daughter of the merchant, Arsam Toravest. She is a brave girl who will try to escape from the spiders if given the chance.
  • She can be found in the Hollowwood on the way to the spiders’ lair, or otherwise in the prison chamber inside the lair.
  • If the PCs try to rescue her or the other girls, she will attempt to help them.


Giant Spiders

  • These spiders come in two varieties: smaller males which will attack with a paralyzing poison, and the larger females which will try to trap their victims with webs and carry them off.

The Spider Queen

  • The Queen is a massive spider, taller than a human. She has dressed herself in the tatters of a velvet curtain and wears a little crown made of sticks tied together with spiderweb.
  • The Queen rules her subjects with a mix of superior intelligence and subtle magic.
  • The Queen is mad. She is having human girls brought to her because she believes that drinking their blood will give her magic and immortality.
  • Unless the PCs push her berserk button, the Queen will always attempt to persuade or charm rather than fight. Humans do not visit her often, other than her victims, and she will want to use the PCs to her advantage, especially if any of them are magic users.
  • Flattery will get the PCs a long way with the Queen. However, if at any point they call her ugly, she immediately order her servants to attack.


The Spider Pit

  • This is the spiders’ main nest, a hole in the ground with lots of tunnels and rooms to explore. Important areas of the Pit will be examined when we discuss dungeon maps later.
  • Near the end of the tunnels is the prison chamber, which contains the few village girls that the Queen has not yet killed.
  • The tunnels end in a small tunnel into the basement of the ruined tower.

The Spider Queen’s Tower

  • This is the home of the spider Queen, which consists of:
  • A basement, which is connected to the Spider Pit.
  • The main tower (most of the floors have been knocked out or destroyed.) This is where the PCs will meet the Queen.
  • The top floor, which serves as the Queen’s personal room. If the PCs can find a way to get to it, they will find the Queen’s meager treasures here, including her book of spells.

As you can see, I tried to incorporate not only the spiders, but also the poisonous glade, the ruined tower, and the villages nearby. I left a hook to another adventure in Fellwick, assuming the PCs haven’t already found their way there, and I put in a little side quest involving the merchant and his daughter. I might mention that I tend more toward dark fantasy/horror sorts of ideas than the usual high fantasy elves-and-dwarves-and-fireballs sorts of things, so make of that what you will. The Spider Queen is inspired by the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who supposedly bathed in the blood of young women to retain her youth and beauty.

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 4

The following was originally posted on my old blog on October 5, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

Now is the time to decide how many adventures we want in our little sandbox. If you wanted to, you could just go with whatever you decided or rolled in Step 3, but a bunch of unrelated one-shot encounters just isn’t very satisfying sometimes. So let’s take a couple of these and make some bigger adventures.

Just for the record, I’ve got 41 map objects on my map of northeastern Lorthera. I’ve separated them into:

  • 21[1]Settlements (this includes any settled area that is not immediately hostile toward the PCs.)
    • 1 City
    • 6 Towns
    • 8 (marked) Villages — villages are small settlements, usually not marked on the map. The ones that are marked are the ones that have inns[2], or possibly something interesting going on.
    • 7 Miscellaneous Settlements (including hermits, fortifications, religious settlements like monasteries, etc.)
  • 5 Ruins (probably infested with monsters.)
  • 9 Monster/Enemy Locations (either in lairs or wandering; this includes any place whose denizens are immediately hostile toward the party — monsters, bandits, etc.)
  • 6 Miscellaneous Locales (natural resources, odd patches of wilderness, bad weather, etc.)

So, that brings us to…

Step 5:
Decide how many adventures you want to lace your sandbox with, and decide how big you want them to be. Using the resources you’ve already built (maps, history, list of encounters), put related encounters into groups of about five each.

I find a spreadsheet to be very helpful at this point, though if you’re allergic to them, notecards would work as well. Take all of those things you generated randomly in Step 3 and group them according to subject, proximity, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a group of encounters that seem related and arrange them in the order they appear on the map, from one point to another in the order they’d be traveled through. As you go, jot down notes about why the PCs might go from one of those encounters to the other.

06024: Lorhaven – adventure starts here.
09024: Fortress – ore stolen from mine nearby.
10024: Natural Resource – investigate mine.
11022: Encampment – track thieves to their camp.
15019: Fort – follow map to bandits’ lair.

You might notice that I don’t have a “11022: Encampment” on my map — remember that it’s fine to add or alter things as you go! Also notice that the outline doesn’t have to be detailed at this point — it just has to get from one point to another, we can add details later.

2. Take a few encounters that are in the same area and think about how they are affecting one another. Put them in the logical order in which the PCs would encounter them, and jot down notes about why the PCs might go from one of those encounters to the other.

05020: Village – adventure starts here.
06018: Village – investigate monster attacks.
09019: Poison Glade – hazard in the forest on the way to…
08019: Spider Pit – dungeon with tunnels leading to…
10019: Ruined Tower – boss monster (spider queen.)

Once again, remember that these don’t have to be detailed yet. We can work that out later. I try to put about five encounters per adventure, but sometimes encounters are optional, like the Poison Glade in this example.

3. Take a few encounters with a similar theme, even if they’re far away from each other, and decide how they relate to each other. Then put them in a logical order and — surprise, surprise — jot down notes about why the PCs might go from one of those encounters to the other.

07022: Ferry – the adventure starts here.
06017: Fellwick[3] – take a boat to investigate…
07016: Shipwreck – find some artifacts from…
10006: Cult of the Water God – get map to…
08014: Lost Temple – boss monster and treasure.

Looks like there will be a lot of water travel in this adventure.

After we’ve done this for most of the encounters on the map — leaving a few that aren’t related to anything else is fine, just as long as there’s a hook to them somewhere — it’s time to start turning those little outlines into real adventures.

[1] This seems like a lot, I’m sure — just over half of all the objects on the map — but I enjoy a lot of roleplaying in my games, and I like adventures to take place in towns as well as the wilderness, so that may be why. I like to give players opportunities to roleplay and use non-combat skills, so I want to develop at least a few adventures that don’t involve a lot of combat. Also keep in mind that a lot of adventures start in towns, even if it’s just as a rumor of an unexplored dungeon in the area.

[2] A lot of gamers seem to take it for granted that everywhere they go, there will be an inn for them to stay at and some shops to buy stuff. Many villages do not have inns, or even many stores. For somewhere to stay the night, they will have to rely on the kindness of strangers, and for things to buy, they will have to find the right people to barter with or wait for a market day.

[3] I should mention, at this point, that the town of Fellwick (06017) on the map is intended to be the Fellwick for which I drew a map a few years back. It was drawn with the intention of being a hub for a roleplaying game, and I’ve never used it, so I figure I might as well now. It has a little bit of history that I can tie in quite nicely with the rest of this little setting.

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 3

The following was originally posted on my old blog on October 3, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

A quick word about maps! I forgot to talk about this before, maybe because I’ve just gotten used to making maps, but I thought I should talk a bit about how to place certain map features.

The shape of coastlines and the placement of mountain chains are up to you,[1] but other things, like rivers and deserts, depend on them.

Rivers will always flow from high ground to low ground, and will always make their way to (never from) the sea. They also never[2] split — they only come together. Remember that rivers are essentially water falling from the highest elevations (especially mountains) to the lowest elevations (the sea.)

If your map is big enough to include a mountain range or two, it might be worth it to think about wind. While you might not want to go as far as mapping the weather patterns for your entire planet,[3] thinking about the direction of the winds can help you figure out some things about your map. Remember when I mentioned geographical features affecting weather?

Averald -- Before and After the Shield Mountains

Assuming that the prevailing winds are driving moisture east from the sea to the land, adding mountains here blocks the wind and stops rain from getting to the eastern half of Averald, turning it into a desert. The basic principle here is that the wind carries water from one place to another, and mountains stop that from happening. Since the mountains are stopping the rain from getting to the other side of them, that also means that most of the rivers coming from those mountains are going to be on the side that gets the rain.

(End tangent.)

So now I’ve got a history and a nice big map. But surely I’m not going to be detailing that entire map for this setting, no no no. Too much work, at least all at once. So instead, I’ll pick one of those squares to detail. The world can be expanded as needed.

There are really only a couple of things I have planned for this map (mostly the placement of towns and roads); the rest will be generated randomly. Then I get to figure out what it all means and see if I can tie some of these together into larger plots.

Step 3:
Place any objects that you planned on in advance on the map.

This is probably pretty self-explanatory. If you know you want the lost ruins of an ancient city deep in a forest, put one there.

Two things you should probably place manually are towns and roads. A few good spots to place towns are:

  • By rivers — water makes trade easier, since travel over water is faster than over land, as well as being a source of fish and clean, running water.
  • On high ground — higher ground is easier to defend, so it makes a good spot for forts or other places that are being fought over.
  • Near crossroads — anywhere roads intersect is going to get more people and goods traveling through.
  • Near natural resources — obviously, a resource has to be harvested before it can be used and sold; that requires work, which requires workers.

Roads, of course, go between towns. They will generally take the most direct and convenient route, avoiding mountains, thick forests, and other types of terrain that are difficult to traverse.

Step 4:
Fill the rest of the map with random encounters.

For my map, I used the random tables from The Welsh Piper’s Hex-Based Campaign Design, Part 2, supplemented with some random monster tables from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, where necessary.[4] Here’s the filled-in map, in all its hexiness.

I had some interesting ideas for some of this already, but I’ll leave that for the next post.

Just in case you were interested, (really?) here is the full list of all the things on this map. Some of the more generic things (“Lawful Religious Order”, “Magical Pagan Shrine”, “Intense Weather”) are just pretty much literally what I rolled, and I’m still pondering what they represent exactly. Next time, I’ll try to start stringing them together into interesting plots.

06001    Silver Mine
06002    Brightcliff
05005    Storm Giant
05006    Unstable Ground
07006    Clearhollow
10003    Bridge (toll)
11002    Rosewick
09004    Morwick
17004    Hermit’s Home
14005    Neutral Religious Order
18004    Consecrated Grounds
10006    Cult of the Water God
16011    Grove
21008    Village of the Swamp Folk
02012    Freylea
01014    Village (Unnamed)
04016    Village (Unnamed)
06017    Fellwick
07016    Shipwreck
08014    Lost Temple of the Water God
17014    Hollow Castle Ruins
20012    Wyvern’s Nest
20013    Magical Pagan Shrine
25011    Stone Giant’s Lair
06018    Village (Unnamed)
05020    Village (Unnamed)
07022    Ferry
08019    Spider Pit
09019    Poisonous Glade
10019    Spider Queen’s Tower
15019    Fort
19017    Intense Weather
21017    Wandering Chimera
25020    Cave Bears
02024    Village (Unnamed)
06024    Lorhaven
09024    Fortress
10024    Natural Resource
16024    Mad Hermit
20022    Lawful Religious Order
22022    Wandering Werebear

[1] Well okay, technically they’re up to plate tectonics and the like, but I’m not even going to try to go into that right now. Maybe if I make a world map one of these days.

[2] Well, okay, not never, but the long story short is that eventually, one of them will dry up. And I don’t mean “in a thousand years” eventually, I mean “after the rainy season” eventually.

[3] Unless you do. Here, have a tutorial.

[4] I’m not really a huge D&D fan, but I know it’s the standard, so I’ll do my best to make things compatible with it. Plus, I like some of the old stuff. And I love me some random tables.

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 2

The following was originally posted on my old blog on September 26, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

Last week, I talked about my general idea for a campaign setting. Today, I’ll talk about the next step — coming up with a brief history in order to give myself a better idea of the setting.

Step 1:
Write a brief history of the entire setting, and draw a small map to go with it. When you’re done, pick a smaller area to detail.

In a nutshell, this basically comprises steps 1-3 of Rob Conley’s “How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox” series of articles (which are an interesting read, if you’re into that sort of thing, which you probably are if you’re reading this.)

In addition to this little history (which has been revised a bit to make it read a little more nicely), I also drew a map as I wrote. (My original page of history, randomly-generated names, and hacked-together map is provided here for your amusement. And yes, I like to draw on graph paper. And yes, I changed all of those names in my final revision. They were awful. I still used ones from the same list of names I generated at the beginning, though!)

A Brief History of Averald

By the year 473 (350 years ago), the Sumradine Empire had conquered all of Averald and beyond. The people of Chauntyle were crushed to almost nothing, forced into the depths of the Glassmarsh. Chauntyle’s most powerful mages came together and, with the most powerful display of magic ever seen in Averald, threw up a chain of mountains between themselves and the bulk of the Sumradine Empire. Cut off from their reinforcements, the Sumradine army was suddenly outnumbered, and was forced to flee south into the ancient Lorthera Forest, where they survived in hiding.

In 648 (175 years later), the stranded Sumradine people rallied arouned a powerful leader, Tiaeroth, who conquered much of the southlands. Tiaeroth’s son, Honroth, was the first king of the new Sumradine kingdom of Lorthera – named for the forest that had sheltered them in their time of need.

The kingdoms of Chauntyle and Lorthera warred almost nonstop for the next 75 years, until the coming of the great sorceror Neghamos. Neghamos was a Chauntylian mage who – with ancient Sumradine magic he found in the Glassmarsh, it is rumored – conquered much of Lorthera. But just as Chauntyle was rejoicing at the defeat of its old enemy, Neghamos turned his magic on them. Soon, both kingdoms had fallen under his rule, and Neghamos made himself supreme emperor of Averald.

His reign was brief. In 727, only four years later, Neghamos was overthrown by an alliance of Chauntylian and Lortheran rebels. A year later, the Charter of Two Kingdoms was signed, creating official borders for the kingdoms of Chauntyle and Lorthera.

There was a brief peace until 752, when Lorthera was thrown into a civil war by political unrest. The Kintai rebellion – known to them as the Uprising of the Purebloods – was short-lived, being brutally crushed by the Lortheran King, but it inspired the Chauntylians to turn a series of keeps on their northern border into a curtain wall.

The year is now 823. In the wake of the peaceful times the two kingdoms have been enjoying, there has been an age of expansion for both of them. The Lortherans are slowly purging the monsters that make the land uninhabitable, and the Chauntylians are expanding into the northern sea and the islands there. Much talk has been heard of going east, past the Shield Mountains, to conquer Sumradine.

But unknown to the people of Averald, what was once a fertile, forested land is now a desert wasteland… and the surviving Sumradine are angry. Very angry….

Wait, that was ‘brief’?

Well, let’s just say it was.

Step 2:
Revise and redraw your map, if necessary, and then put it on some sort of grid so that it can be scaled up easily. Name important areas of your selected region.

So I redrew the map on another piece of paper, seen here. (I also picked a nice big chuck out of the middle to map more fully.) You can see I’ve gotten more randomly generated names, hehe! When I’m fitting the details of a setting to an idea I’ve decided on previously, I’ll come up with names myself or look for something appropriate. When I don’t have a solid idea, though, random names can spark interesting ideas. For example, one of these names was “Brightcliff”… what would make people name a town that, I wondered? Maybe the cliffs have a certain pale color, or shine in the light of the sun. Maybe it’s a certain type of rock, or maybe it has some shiny ore or mineral in it. Maybe there’s a mine nearby where that shiny something is being mined. What could be mined there? Silver is an easy answer, but maybe something else. I’ll keep thinking about it.

After I’d done all of this and pondered everything for a while, I decided to add a few more places to the map and make it into a hex map, to make mapping the smaller regions accurately easier. Here’s the finished hex map of Averald.

The eastern country, half desert, is of course Sumradine. The western ones are Chauntyle (northern main continent) and Lorthera. The island continents are a new addition: the western island is Saboro, and the northern group of islands is the southern end of Ildaunt, both of which are being colonized by explorers from Chauntyle.

What I am thinking right now is that this map needs some labeling and a nice map key up in that empty northeast area.

 Resources used so far:
Rob Conley’s “How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox”
The Welsh Piper’s Hex Map Templates
Samuel Stoddard’s Fantasy Name Generator
Serendipity Random Generators
Hexographer Hexmapping Software

And I can’t mention maps without a shout out to the Cartographers’ Guild, without whose accumulated map-making wisdom, I would doubtlessly be quite lost.

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 1

The following was originally posted on my old blog on September 19, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

So, what I think I want to do is make a sandbox campaign setting. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. What I mean to say is that I’ve been in the process of making a sandbox campaign setting for a little while now, and now I’m going to share it, and my process, with you from the beginning.[1] Also, I like to read a lot of “how-to” sorts of things, and so I might mention one here or there, and give my opinion on it.

But I digress.

So, a campaign setting! I think it might help me, first of all, to state what exactly it is that I’d like to get accomplished here. I want to make a campaign setting that is relatively[2] small (because I’m a flake and if it looks too big, I’ll procrastinate and never get it done), has room for expansion (because I like big campaigns, despite being a flake), and is system-neutral (because I like a lot of systems, and I never know what system I’m going to use for a campaign.[3])

I also do want a little fluff (because fluff is good reading, after all!) but in general, I want to be pretty practical — hex maps showing travel distance, random encounter tables, etc. A lot of random tables, because I like random tables a lot.

So I think what I’ll start with is a list of what I’ll need.

  • An idea.
  • A brief history of the setting, to give myself some inspiration.
  • An overview map of the entire setting.
  • 1-2 regional maps (to start with; others can be added on?)
  • Details of settlements and dungeons, with maps if necessary.
  • Details of important characters, monsters, and items, with stats if I decide on a system.
  • A list of adventures.
  • Some random tables.
  • Some pictures if I can get these commissions I’ve been working on finished.
  • Fluff.
  • Randomly generated names. [4]

…Yep. That should do it. Some of this is, obviously, optional; and some of it is more involved than others, and so on and so forth.

I always like to start a checklist with something I’ve already managed to get finished — it makes me feel like I’m making progress. Usually this is just “Make a Checklist,” although in this case, it is the idea.

First off, I have to say that I’m a fantasy fan, and any setting I’m inclined to waffle about will probably be fantasy. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, though it has its place. I haven’t worked on anything truly high fantasy for a long time — my last two settings have been a huge sort of steam-punkish sci-fantasy and a quite small, darker, low fantasy with horror elements… maybe I’ll talk about those later — so I think that’s what I’ll go for.

Another thing is that I’ve been making maps a lot lately, and one of the things I’ve been really into is learning how geographical features affect weather. So I want to somehow feature some unintended consequences when powerful magic is used to dramatically alter the landscape.

There are a couple of other things I’m still mulling over, but in general, that’s it. ‘Till next time!

[1] Because if you don’t mind, I’d like to pretend that I have someone to bounce ideas off of, even though I don’t. You see, it helps me to talk things out, and justify some design elements. That’s where you come in.

[2] Relative to what? I’m not sure. To my old GMs, perhaps, whose campaign settings spanned like whole worlds or something? I don’t know. Maybe my setting is actually relatively big. But now I’m being philosophical.

[3] Until OVA Revised Edition comes out. I love OVA, but I want those revised rules something fierce, and I don’t want to change over mid-campaign, so I’m holding out. I know what setting I want to use for my next OVA game, and one day maybe I’ll actually get some work done on it. (90% of what I have now is fluff, which is okay I guess, but not terribly practical.)

[4] I am really awful at coming up with names quickly, so I’ll get a random name generator to do the work for me. When I get to the stage where I’ll need it, I’ll link to the sites I use for it.

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