Practicing the art and skill of building worlds.

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.

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2 responses

  1. October

    I love the frowny face on the desert! I’m just learning Fractal Mapper, and I noticed a major faux pas in the tutorial where they have you placing rivers BEFORE placing mountains. Um… no.

    I can’t wait for the insanity to die down here at work so I’ll have more time to play god. 😉 I can’t wait to make hex maps. So old school!

    May 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    • Well, you know… if you know where you want to have your rivers before you know where… um… yeah, no, rivers should generally follow mountains. Mountains are hard to place around rivers. (Although I usually place hills and valleys after the rivers.)

      Hex maps! ❤ Hexographer all the way, but of course.

      May 7, 2012 at 11:03 pm

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