Posts Tagged ‘map’

You might remember when the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Open Gaming License was announced I put out a call for cartographers. It is time to buckle down and finish the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

For those who need a quick refresher, Exploration Age is my campaign setting that takes place in the world of Canus. Canus is rife with political intrigue, magical technology, ancient ruins, and unexplored territory. Until the last decade the wild continent of Verda was hidden from the rest of the world. Its recent discovery has sent other nations into a land-grabbing frenzy. Adventurers are needed all over the world to scout unexplored wilds, dive into ruins for items that may help spur the creation of new technologies, and navigate the political upheaval of a complicated world. It is an enormous world, a bit larger than our own. Here are a few of the design principles I came up with while creating the world based on the preferences of my own players.

I’ve outlined numerous countries, peoples, organizations, technologies, and more on this blog. Now I’m getting ready to publish the whole dang world.

Clearly for a place like this the map was super important. I’m lucky enough to have two awesome cartographers working with me. Danny Rupp is creating the huge world map and Ryan Hennesy is making all of the individual country maps. They are awesome dudes and their work is so fresh it’s minty. Check them out!

Basically I asked them to take the map I made using Hexographer and turn it into something more awesome.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

I never worked with a cartographer before so I did not know where to start. Luckily they both did and asked me what style of map I wanted. Style of map? I had never thought about that before. I wanted something professional and inspiring… so I got to Googling. I did indeed find there are many different styles of map. Just look at all the differences between these maps of Khorvaire from the Eberron campaign setting. They are all the same place.

You can see a ton of different styles in the maps above! Each one is useful and beautiful in its own right. So which is best for Exploration Age?

Before you settle on a style of map ask yourself the following two questions.

  1. How will my map be used?
  2. What story will my map tell?

For question one the answer is clear. First the map will be used to determine travel distances like most RPG maps. That’s pretty standard. The detail that distinguishes Exploration Age comes in the form of the blank spots on the map. The maps are also meant to be used by GMs as an aid for hex crawls and exploration of these areas.

As far as story goes Canus is a world that is booming with the business of discovery. Its residents just realized the world is twice as big as they thought. Maps are drawn with feverish excitement each day by eager explorers. My maps need immerse the players in this fervor.

For Exploration Age I’m looking for something that feels hand-drawn with a practical scale and hex grid to keep it easy on GMs as they lead their players through exploratory hex crawls. A combination of the first and fourth examples above seems right. I’ll keep you updated on the maps as they get awesome.

Blank Spots

Of course what makes this campaign setting worthy of the name Exploration Age are the blank spots on the map. They have a huge impact on the world and the fact that they exist is the catalyst for many of the events in the world and possibly the places where your party might be adventuring.

I’ll need to make sure these blank spots are clearly marked on the map without seeming too out of place. That’s a big challenge for Danny and Ryan, but I have no doubt they’ll crush it.

I know some of you might be saying, “Why are there blank spots on the map? If I’m paying for a campaign setting, I expect the whole thing!” That’s understandable. I assure you that Exploration Age will come with more than enough world created. You can run an entire campaign all over Canus and never need to explore an unmapped area.

The reason I included these blank areas is I always love creating my own area of a game world even when I’m playing in a published setting. Settings inspire me with a great ideas , but I the world doesn’t always have the room to add them without subtracting from what is already there. I’ve found that many other GMs do the same. We want a chance to add our own ideas to the world we play in. That is what D&D is all about. Even fifth edition lead designer Jeremy Crawford‘s personal campaign world began as Barovia. He rolled back the mists and began building up the area around the gothic setting until he had a much larger world.

That’s why this map has blank spots. So GMs who are inspired by the world to create more can easily make a piece of it their own. There’s tons of inspiration and hanging story threads within the pages of the campaign guide’s manuscript to help bring players and GMs into the unknown. Over the coming months I’ll be sharing more of the world but I’m also going to share some resources and advice that make hex crawls fun and easy. I hope you enjoy what I’m building!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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It all started when I wanted my PCs to fight Santa. I started creating an adventure to do just that and I shared the Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition monster statistics for Mr. Claus and his crew and the artifact that drove St. Nick insane on this very blog. I plan on posting the entire adventure on Thursday.

Before we get to the short quest I want to show off the map I made for it using Pyromancers’ Dungeon Painter. It’s a free, easy-to-use online mapmaking tool. Take a look at the gridded and gridless options of the map below. You should easily be able to bring the 51×51 map into any virtual table. Take a look and let me know what your initial impressions are in the comments below!

I should also mention that this blog post is part of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, which is being hosted right here on this very blog for all of December. The theme is “Homebrew Holiday Gifts.” I’m asking bloggers everywhere to share their RPG creations for their favorite systems with me. At the end of the month I’ll make a list linking all participating blog posts so everyone can checkout the fine homebrew creations in one place.

map51x51 no grid map51x51 grid

More Maps

If you like these maps and want to grab some more for your games, check out the Free Game Resources section of the site. You can grab several maps there with gridded and gridless options (and their corresponding adventures) along with free PDFs of fifth edition magic itemsmonsters, backgroundsD&D fifth edition rules modulesspells, and more created by yours truly.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme of “Unusual Dungeons” chosen by Nils Jeppe of Enderra has inspired a series of blog posts about some abandoned prisons built to hold dragons by aberrations. So far I’ve written about dragon prisons in general, the specific history of the prison of Shuzal, and the area surrounding Shuzal. Now I’m going to flesh out Shuzal post by post and hopefully have a nice dungeon to show for it in the end. My plan is to put it all into a PDF and throw it up on the Free Game Resources section of this site.

The Ruined Entrance Citadel

Shuzal Entrance Citadel Map

Built in Pyromancers online Dungeon Painter.

Shuzal’s entrance citadel lies in overgrown forest ruins, picked over by the ogres of the Ox Tribe. Having been exposed to the elements for thousands of years, the citadel’s roof has collapsed, walls have crumbled, and trees have grown right through the floor. While the Ox Tribe has some guards posted on this first level of the citadel, most of its members are out raiding or living life in the underground section of the complex.

As you trek through the forest, through the trees you can see curved stone structures rising from the ground. These walls seem to have grown as naturally as the trees growing amongst them. Though crumbling and forgotten there is no mistaking the strange curvature of the walls, identifying this structure as something built by aberrations.

Features of the Area

Illumination. Because there is no ceiling on the ruined citadel, it has the same illumination as the forest directly outside.

Crumbling Walls. The citadel’s 20-foot-high surface level walls are on their last legs. A Small or larger creature adjacent to a wall can use its action to make a DC 15 Strength check to know over a 5-foot section of the wall. Creatures on the opposite side of the wall must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. Creatures who fail take 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage. Creatures who succeed take half damage. Creatures who are adjacent to a wall can be knocked through the wall by another creature using the shove attack or a spell which causes forced movement. The creature being moved must be adjacent to the wall before the shove happens or spell is cast, otherwise the wall stops them in their tracks as normal. A creature pushed through a wall takes 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage. Trying to climb one of the walls requires a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check. Creatures who fail this check break the section of wall they are trying to climb, taking 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage in addition to fall damage as normal. The ogres in this complex do not hesitate to knock over the walls to make more room for their bulk.

Open Spaces. The destroyed ceiling and crumbling walls of Shuzal mean that anything happening within the citadel can be heard in all other areas on this level of the complex, except in area A7, which has maintained its roof and door. If battle breaks out or a wall is destroyed, any Ox Tribe members in the complex converge on the source of the noise. Consider breaking enemies into waves based on the rooms they start in. If a fight breaks out, bring in a new wave at the end of the round whenever the PCs outnumber the enemies they are currently fighting. Keep the pressure on in this dungeon brawl.

Rubble. The Ox Tribe ogres have pushed the rubble into large piles which hampers less-than-ogre-sized creatures. Rubble is considered difficult terrain for Medium and smaller creatures.

Trees. The trees growing in this area are 20 feet tall and require a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check to climb. Medium or smaller creatures who climb 10 feet or more into a tree have the benefit of half cover thanks to the branches.

A1 & A2 – Guard-Houses

As you enter the ruined citadel, gaping holes in the wall can be seen on both sides of the hall. A foul stench, laughter, and gross eating noises come from the West side of the hall. Low grumbling and the clatter of small stones on large stones can be heard from the East.

Eight ogres are on guard duty, four in each guard-house. In A1 the ogres sit eating the bodies of four dead human merchants and telling each other bawdy jokes. In A2 the ogres play a game with dice.

Treasure. The hungry ogres in A1 shoved the tattered clothing of the merchants into the corner of the room behind a pile of rubble and can be spotted with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. A character searching through the clothing discovers a blood-stained belt pouch containing 302 gp.

A3 – Tunnel Room

The most prominent feature of this room is the large, gaping hole in the floor, which drops 15 feet onto a ruined stone floor.

If the ogres are in this room, add:

Two large ogres turn to face you as you enter the room. One rushes toward you, the other heads for the hole.

This room used to be the aberrations well-guarded stairwell to the lower portions of the citadel. Now the stair well lies in ruin and two ogres stand guard. If trouble breaks out, one of the ogres heads down below to warn the rest of the tribe.

Tunnel. The tunnel here is really a hole in the ground which drops 15 feet. The height is high enough for large creatures (like ogres) to safely lower themselves down, but smaller creatures need to use rope, magic, or some other method to safely touch down on the lower level of the citadel.

A4 – Training Room

This long room has walls painted with faded frescos of dragons falling in battle before aberrations. On the side of the East wall, a large column painted with various targets lies in ruin.

If the ogres and oni are in this room, add:

An oni feverishly lectures two ogres who hang their heads in shame and fear.

This is the place where aberration guards would practice their combat tactics. Any who wished to access the lower levels of the citadel and the portal to Shuzal would have to pass aberration soldiers ready for combat. Now two ogres and an oni are here. The ogres came to blows over a shiny stone one of them found. The oni has taken the stone for herself and is currently lecturing the ogres about fighting each other while on guard duty.

Treasure. The oni carries a topaz worth 500 gp on a pouch in its belt.

A5 – Processing Room

This forgotten room has a smashed, divot-filled column which was once inlaid with some sort of stones. The smashed pile of rubble in the corner of the room was clearly an old piece of furniture.

This forgotten room is where polymorphed dragon prisoners were brought for processing. The column, once full of magically charged gemstones, forced a permanent zone of truth spell in room. The pile of rubble in this room is a smashed stone desk which held the files of the aberrations, since plundered or lost to the ravages of time.

Treasure. A DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals there is still a large spinel worth 250 gp on the underside of the column. A character can reach under and try to pry out the spinel with a DC 15 Strength check.

A6 – Golem Workshop

A smashed bench and some rusty old tools lie on the round in this room. Faded frescos on the wall depict various aberrations assembling guardians of stone, flesh, and metal.

If the clay golem is here, add:

In the middle of the room stands a silent statue made of clay, resembling a human with tentacles for arms.

One of the onis of the Ox Tribe found this old golem workshop and managed to magically reprogram the clay golem here to work for her. The clay golem guards this level of the complex and runs toward any sounds of battle and attacks any non-Ox Tribe creatures it comes across.

A7 – The Key Room

As the adamantine door opens, a heavy purple mist floats out of the door around your ankles. Inside the room, a great adamantine chest sits behind a huge creature made of iron. Its three heads look your way as it raises its sword. Its feet crush the skeletons of ogres as it moves toward you.

This room was setup long ago by the aberrations to guard one of Shuzal’s portal keys. The ogres have left the room untouched after many attempts to get to the chest failed thanks to the iron golem guardian and the mists within the room. This room is entirely enclosed, has a 20-foot high ceiling, and is shrouded in darkness, though opening the door and leaving it open allows for light from the outside to penetrate the room. The iron golem here does not join battle unless it can see intruders (and it considers the Ox Tribe intruders as well). Its main function is to guard the chest.

Jammed Door. The adamantine door (AC 23, HP 100) to this room has been jammed by the ogres. It can be forced open with a DC 20 Strength check.

Mists of Madness. This mist covers the entirety of the floor in area A7. When a living creature shows any sign of above animal intelligence (such as speaking, casting a spell, using tools or a weapon, etc.) while standing within the mists, the mists rise up and try to enter the creature’s lungs. When the mists try to enter a creature’s body, that creature must first succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. If the creature fails that saving throw, it must then succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or gain one form of long-term madness. Creatures who are aware they are standing in mists of madness have advantage on the Constitution saving throw. A DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals the nature of the trap. A strong wind forces the mists to dissipate in 1d10 rounds.

Treasure. The adamantine chest (AC 23, HP 100) is locked. The key to this chest is long forgotten, but a DC 20 Dexterity check made with thieves tools picks the lock or a DC 20 Strength check forces the lock open. If the lock is forced open with a Strength check or if a creature attempts to pick the lock and fails, the poison mister trap (see below) triggers. The chest contains a Shuzal portal key, a rod of planar entrapment, and fifteen pearls carved to look like eyes (worth 100 gp each).

Poison Mister Trap. A nozzle connected to a vial of poison gas is hidden in the chest’s lock. When the trap is triggered the nozzle creates a 15-foot cone of gas originating from the lock. Creatures within the cone must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) poison damage and are poisoned for 1 hour. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not poisoned. A DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the nozzle and vial. A DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the nozzle and gas vial from the lock.

A8 – Offices

A huge pile of rubble indicates that all of the stone furniture in this room was smashed and pushed into a pile.

If the ogres are here, add:

Eight ogres sit around the body of a fallen comrade, solemnly praying.

Once the prisoners of Shuzal were processed, their information was brought here and poured over by various aberration intelligence officers. Now eight ogres hold an impromptu funeral for a friend who died on a recent raid before bringing him below to be buried.

A9 – Forgotten Room

This room is so badly damaged it’s almost impossible to tell what its former purpose was. It does not seem to have much of one now.

This room’s outer wall is easier to break. A DC 10 Strength check is all that is required to knock it over. A DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals the wall is weaker than the others.

A10 – Armor Storage

A huge pile of rubble sits in this room next to a tree which seems to have grown taller than the others nearby. Rusted pieces of metal sit here and there on the ground, perhaps once pieces of something greater.

Long ago the aberrations stored armor here. Now the highest tree in this section of the forest grows from the floor. The tree is 40 feet high and climbing to the top allows a person to see over the rest of the complex, since all areas have no ceiling except A7.

A11 – Weapon Storage

Rusted blades, spears, and hammers lie about this room.

If the oni is here, add:

At the center of the room, an oni meditates beneath a tree.

The oni in this room is trying to get in touch with the aberrant magic of the ruin. The aberrations once kept their weapons here.

Treasure. The roots of the tree are covering an old deerskin bag, which can be spotted with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. Removing the bag from under the roots requires a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the check fails by 5 or more the bomb of horrors in the bag goes off.

Next Time…

…we’ll get to the lower level of this dungeon!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I originally wrote this article for Johnn Four’s free roleplaying tips newsletter you can and should sign-up for over at roleplayingtips.com.

There is no task for a game master more daunting and gratifying than worldbuiding. Creating a universe in which a group of PCs can romp around in is very gratifying, but the seemingly Herculean effort it takes to get there can be miserable especially if you have many life commitments outside of gaming. For the last decade I’ve been running Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs in published campaign settings, but it was always a dream of mine to create a new world. I mean a full, rich world with a huge history. We’re talking original rules modules, big honking maps, new monsters, intrigue, dungeons, rivalries, and more open-ended story than the closing chapter of a Goosebumps novel. The kind of thing I had the time to do as a kid but could now tackle with the wisdom of an adult.

Last year I finally embarked on creating that new world. With the impending release of fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons I set pen to page and began creating a world from the top down. With so much going on in my own world and the promise of an Open Gaming License from Wizards of the Coast I’m still working on my 300+ page campaign guide that I’m preparing for my first self-publishing venture. I’ve been chronicling my efforts on this blog since January of last year. During that journey I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that can help you build a RPG world of your own, no matter how fleshed out you want your own campaign world to be. Your world might be built top down or bottom up or half off the top of your head and one session at a time. If your world is an original (or modified from an existing) creation these tips will help you out. Here they are in no particular order.

Take Notes

You are going to have ideas for your campaign. Lots and lots and lots of ideas. They might come at work, during your commute, during dinner, or another time a pen and paper aren’t handy. If you don’t write ideas down, they’re going to fade away. Your phone is your friend. Most mobile phones, even those of the non-smart variety, have a notepad feature. So when you get a great idea jot that sucker down and you’ll have it as long as you have the phone. If you want to backup your ideas copy and pasting them into an email or text message is super easy. When you sit down to flesh out your world you’ll know exactly where to find your awesome ideas.

Know Your World’s Central Idea

What makes your world special? Does it feel like a Lovecraft story? Is it recovering from a recent war? Is it in the middle of one? Does one oppressive (or benevolent) ruler have absolute power? Do the gods come down in person and give decrees to their worshippers? Is it a whacky place where every natural landform is made of candy?

Your world should have a central idea which sets it apart from the rest. In Exploration Age, the central idea is that there are unmapped areas of the planet that the civilized world is racing to uncover and colonize. I hold onto that idea and wonder how it affects everything else happening in the campaign world. How do the “uncivilized” peoples react to the colonization of their home by others? How do competing countries negotiate different land grabs? How will the new resources discovered in the new world affect the old? What struggles do the colonists have? Let your central idea permeate through all aspects of the world. Whenever you’re creating a new place or person within your world as yourself how it relates to your central idea.

Have A Map

I’m not an artist, but good lord it helps so much to have a map. Being able to visualize the world is not just a help to players, but to you as well. Everything becomes so much clearer and the world feels more real once you have a map. This is because most people are visual learners and need to see something to understand it. You can start small, just what you need for your first session, or build out your whole world at once. Knowing how close a city is to an ocean or orc infested mountains can help you discover what is unique about that settlement. If you’re like me and can’t draw freehand I recommend checking out some software. For free there’s Hexographer (which I use and is worth buying a few extras) and Stone Sword, or you could be fancy and buy Fractal Mapper, Campaign Cartographer, or Mapdiva.

Have A Timeline

Even if it’s very rough make a small timeline of your world’s history. Think about how major events would shape your world and adventure sites. How do these events tie into the central idea of your campaign? In my world aberrations used to rule the land before they were wiped out by dragons. Their magic technology can be salvaged within the ruins of their former empire, many of which are hidden deep in the uncharted wilds. These ruins are blank spots within blank spots! The events of my timeline inform the current world and relate back to the central idea. The rise and fall of nations and rulers, the birth of races, the discovery of new lands, the creation of important technologies, wars, treaties, and the like are the sort of events to consider adding to your timeline.

Steal and Twist

When it comes to stealing ideas for your world, don’t be afraid. Let literature, video games, film, television, art, and other campaign settings inspire you. When you do steal an idea go one step further and twist it. Add something to the idea or turn it on its head and see what happens. That idea is putty. Play with it until you’ve made something you think is interesting and original. Let’s take the giant spider infested Mirkwood of The Hobbit. Maybe you want to add a similar forest to your realm, but instead of spiders, it’s crawling with giant snakes, or undead animals, or enormous bees. Maybe falling into its rivers and streams doesn’t induce a magical slumber, but rather the waters keep people awake, slowly driving victims insane with deadly exhaustion. Perhaps instead of a forest it’s a desert, swamp, jungle, or arctic wasteland. Stealing is just step one. Challenge yourself and twist the stolen goods. It’s far more rewarding for everyone.

Ask Your Players What They Want

Before you embark the incredible worldbuilding task before you, start by asking your players what sort of game they want to play. I sent my players a brief email asking them about their preferred genre, tone, magic level, intrigue level, and play style for in D&D. Even though I’ve been playing with my groups for years some of the feedback was surprising. Have a chat with each of them, give them a quick questionnaire, or lead a more organized group discussion. It matters what your players want since they’re going to be playing in the world with you. Your gothic horror game could cost you some friends at the table if they’re not really into undead and lycanthropes.

Let The Players Do Some Work

Like I wrote above they’re playing in the world too, so let players shoulder some of the worldbuilding responsibility. I give my players a basic description of the world and then they create their PC backstories. In the process they’ve created cities, fantastic locations, artifacts, and even rules modules for the world. Encourage your players to do the same once they have a good idea of the tone and central idea of your world. Anything they add will just make the game and story richer and more interesting. Don’t worry. As the GM you reserve the right to nix anything that doesn’t make sense in your world. (e.g. The Kingdom of Bubblegum in your post apocalyptic zombie game)

Share Your Stuff

Don’t keep all your information too close to the vest, especially if you’re building a world from the top down. Share it with your players and other gamers you trust. Since a lot of worldbuilding isn’t game rule specific sharing the information with people outside of your gaming circle who appreciate fiction. My girlfriend has never played D&D, but she reads a lot of what I create. Having her outside-the-industry perspective is invaluable. All she cares about is story which should be the focus of a RPG world. The more input you can get, the better. Just remember that all feedback does not need to be taken to heart. Listen to those who are kind enough to offer feedback, but only implement the ideas they provide which sound good to you. I often link this blog in gaming forums and various social media sites and solicit feedback from strangers. I’ve gotten some of the best insights into my work this way.

Having people provide feedback can also keep your worldbuilding on schedule. It’s my mission to share updates twice a week on my blog which keeps me writing and worldbuilding. You could keep a similar schedule with whomever you are sharing your world. Maybe it’s the first of each month, or every Wednesday, or every day. Giving yourself a deadline and having others hold you accountable will keep you writing.

Write Everything You Ever Wanted

Put anything in the world you ever wanted to create. Stuff that thing full of all you ever wanted in a campaign world. You’re not going to run out of ideas. Take it from a man who has been a GM for 20 years. More ideas will come so don’t save anything. You might never use it if you keep hanging onto it. If you write what you want to write the work is worth. That’s sort of the point, right? These are games and are supposed to be fun. Let your imagination run wild and get a little crazy. Happy worldbuilding!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Well, fifth edition has been released! The D&D Starter Set hit local friendly game stores last week and the D&D Basic rules are up… for FREE! Go download and check out over 100 pages of new D&D content for $0. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting many a podcast about my thoughts on the new edition, but spoiler alert… I feel very positive about it. Maybe you’re not feeling these new rules or maybe you agree with me that this could be our finest D&D yet. Let me know if you think I’m right/wrong and sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter. I love to hear others thoughts and opinions. Remember, in the coming days of discussion and possible disagreement – just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean he or she is a Nazi. Be polite and respectful and people will respect your own view-point more. In the end this is just a game.

Preach!

Anyway, with this release I know the DMs out there are beginning to craft worlds of their own. I thought I’d talk with you all a bit about how I built some adventure sites into Exploration Age and then give you some examples (which you can feel free to pillage for your home campaign).

Write Down What You Got

Before you begin adding adventure sites to your world, make a quick list of all the ideas for cool dungeons, forests, castles, and more that you have. You don’t need more than a line for each site and the description only needs to make sense to you. For instance, maybe you’ve got an idea for red dragon’s volcanic lair which also serves as a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire. You could simply write – red dragon, volcano, portal and know what that meant. The important thing is to get any ideas you have down on (virtual) paper so you don’t forget them.

As you know I love Google Drive, so I recommend starting a document there, so you can add ideas as you get them. You never know when you’ll feel inspired! If you don’t have any ideas, have a good old-fashioned brainstorm session, or have no fear and continue on. Tips for idea generation are below!

Map It Up

My latest map of Canus... still needs some tweaks

My latest map of Canus… still needs some tweaks

I’ve already written about how I made the maps for Exploration Age. Once you’ve got all of your continents and oceans created, it’s time to start dropping in adventure sites. I had my idea list, but it wasn’t enough to fill the giant world I had created. I began adding ruins, castles, and more to the map. I didn’t do this totally randomly, I looked for places that might make sense. A dangerous ruin might be in a swamp, away from a lot of other areas of civilization, and a fortress might sit with its back to the mountains or on a border between two countries in a defensible or valuable position.

Once I had placed these sites I went around naming them. I tried to look at the names of some of D&D most classic adventure sites. The Tomb of Horrors, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Castle Ravenloft all have names which evoke a particular feeling of grand adventure while also giving you little hints about what to expect from the site. So for the sites that weren’t part of my original list, I came up with their names first and concepts second. Sometimes their names were based on the location in which they were found. For instance, within a patch of dead forest in Taliana I placed the Deadwood Castle. Other times these names were something evocative that popped into my head that I knew I would sort out later – like Gnome Graves in Parian’s Niro Swamp.

Make Your Lists

Once I had all my adventure sites and my map finished, I wrote down every single site I had placed on the map. In my case, since the map is so large, I divided my list into sublists by country. However, your map may be smaller than my own, so you may just make one list or perhaps your map is way bigger than mine and you want to find some other method of dividing your list (maybe by terrain or region – really whatever is easiest for you). Any notes or ideas I had about what the sites might be, I included on the list.

Once I had that master list of adventure sites, I set it aside. It’s always good to shift gears and let the mind rest for a bit. Many of your best ideas come when you brain is just wandering so let it (but keep that list handy so when an idea comes up you can add that detail or note to the list so you don’t forget).

A lot of folks get their best ideas in the shower. So get cleaning yourself!

Adding the Details

Finally, I began detailing each site. Obviously, with so many adventure sites on the world map, I wasn’t going to create a unique dungeon map and stat out every single resident monster for each. Besides, I want to keep things a little more open so I can tie an adventure site into the larger campaign’s story arc as it unfolds. However, should my players decide to travel through a site, spend the night in one, or just go delving into some dungeon on a side mission, I wanted to be prepared. I decided I would write at least a quick paragraph for each adventure site to have the basics covered. This will also help me if I’m running a more sandbox style adventure where the players feel free to roam all over the map.

In my mind, good adventure sites need three details.

  1. History How did a ruin become ruined? What was it before? Who built the structure? What are the stories locals tell about the place? If it’s a natural land formation why is it special and different from other places created by nature? What is unknown about its history? Who is alive today and still tied to the history of the place? Do they want people delving into the site or not? Giving a site history roots it solidly in the game world. It gives adventurers a chance to hear about a place through word of mouth instead of just stumbling onto it and it can inspire the dangers and draws of the place.
  2. Danger It wouldn’t be much of an adventure site if it weren’t dangerous. If you’re playing D&D 99% of the time that danger is one or more monsters, so think about the kind of baddies that populate a place. Is this one creature’s lair or home to a host of baddies? Of course, danger need not always come in the form of killer claws and jaws. Maybe the danger is some ancient curse, magical phenomena, natural hazard, supernatural disease, or mechanical trap. Your players may be more curious and probably more terrified if they wander into an adventure site and find no one at all… because an ancient curse drives any intruders so mad that they throw themselves into the tar pit in the basement.
  3. Draw What makes delving into the adventure site worth while? Are there riches to be uncovered? A dragon’s treasure hoard? A vein of mithral? Is there someone to be rescued or liberated in the site? Is the defeat of the evil inside the draw, because that evil is threatening a local village or something greater? Is there information that can only be learned within the site? Is traversing the adventure site the only way to get from one area to the next? Whatever the draw, every adventure site needs one, otherwise why bother risking life and limb to explore the place?

Excerpts

Here are some examples of adventure sites from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

  • Sunken Hold of Hymore (Aeranore) Even the trolls of the Cold Marsh won’t go near the Sunken Hold of Hymore. The old estate which once belonged to a noble family known for their gold jewelry collection is now buried three-fourths of the way into the marsh. It is said that Hymore, a well-known angry drunk, struck the life out of his wife one night. His young daughter, who had shown great psionic ability, buried the house into the ground, suffocating her family and the servants. Some travelers and treasure-seekers who explored parts of the hold say they’ve found undead with strange psionic abilities and heard the voice of an eerie little girl singing a lullaby throughout the house.
  • The Wastes (Bragonay) Bragonay is mostly desert, rocky in the North, sandy in the South. The Wastes are vast expanses of dangerous sandstorms, killer predators, warforged bandits, and countless other dangers. However, merchants constantly cross these wastes when they cannot transport their goods on the Jackrabbit due to cost, limited space, or their destination not being one of the stops on the line. Adventurers may be hired to protect a merchant caravan crossing The Wastes as guards or simply be getting from point A to point B themselves. They better bring plenty of food and water… and a good weapon. There are other reasons to go delving into The Wastes.
    • There are magical twin cacti right outside Mt. Thraxallis. The needles of these cacti can be collected and be used as magic arrows. Stripping both cacti yields 10d10 +2 arrows, however adventurers who do so risk angering the volcano’s resident, an ancient red dragon named Thraxallis who believes the cacti are his alone.
    • It is said that a camp of djinn nomads wander the desert waiting for travelers to happen upon them. If a traveler can best their champion in combat, he or she is granted a wish per the spell.
    • Sand krakens attack from below, but have beaks of solid diamond that can be harvested once they are killed.
  • Troll Lake (Verda) The scrags and trolls who live on the banks of Troll Lake are not to be trifled with. There is an odd magical effect within the waters of the lake and the surrounding lands – elemental magics cease to function. Melf’s acid arrow quiver is empty, lightning bolts do not crackle, and flame tongues cannot produce their fire. This has made it the perfect sanctuary for the denizens of Troll Lake, as only natural fire and acid can be used against them in that area. It is best to avoid the huge lake all together, as the trolls have begun to multiply. The monsters now have an army and the areas around Troll Lake have grown crowded. It is only a matter of time before they march.

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I’m not sure there’s anything more frustrating to me than trying to create a map. I am a horrible visual fine artist. Envisioning what I want is easy, but I just don’t have the skills to execute. I wanted to use a program that would help me create a large world map, easily and quickly. One that would make calculating travel easy and allow me to convey a lot of information in one shot. One that wouldn’t look too terrible!

You’ve Got Options

There are actually a ton of programs you can use to make a world map that fits the bill. Here’s a few resources you can use to make a great world map without being a Photoshop wizard or fine artist.

  • Mapdiva – Has a ton of interesting tools and their example maps look great, but I think you need to be a decent artist to make it work and it seems a little pricey.
  • Campaign Cartographer 3 – Oooooh giirrrrl. This one looked like it might be it. Easy to use, decent price, looks great… but you have to be on the PC and I’m on a mac. Crap.
  • Fractal Mapper – Same great stuff and singular problem as above.
  • Stone Sword – Free and web-based! On a great track! But it looks limited in its variety of visual terrain options, and I’m not sure it allows me to create a world map big enough.

Now I didn’t actually use any of these as you can tell from individual reasons listed, but maybe one of them is right for you! To make the map of Canus, I used a program called Hexographer. I have to say it’s certainly not the best looking map creator out there, but it allowed me to do all of the things I needed to do and it runs on both Mac and PC.

So Why Hexographer?

Here’s my list of reasons for going with Hexographer after doing a little research and playing around.

  • It’s a hex mapper. – I really love hex maps because they make calculating travel very easy. How far is A to B? Well, just count up the number of hexes along your route, multiply them by the scale and BAM! Answered.
  • It’s easy and fast. – Hexographer has loads of handy features, and the basic concept of placing individual terrain hexes down to create a map is pretty user-friendly. You can place them all individually, you can input settings and have it generate a random world map, or you can make a sort of outlined world and then use the terrain wizard feature to fill in the gaps.
  • It has a lot of variety and customization. -Hexographer has a multitude of hex tile options. Pictured below is just the tip of the iceberg. The titles, lines, text graphics, shapes, and more are all customizable and make it easy for you to really shape the world (or galaxy) you want to make.
    • Some terrain hexes available.

      Some terrain hexes available.

    • Some symbols that can be added to the map.

      Some symbols that can be added to the map.

  • It’s free. – Yep. You can pay more to get a license and get some cool features (which I did), but everything listed above is 0 dollars. 0.

Size of Canus

So after I picked the software I wanted to use to create the map, I had to determine just how big Canus is. I know I want adventures that span the world to feel as epic and big as they might in our own world… if not bigger! The scale of my hexes to be easy to add for figuring out distances. My map is roughly 500 hexes across. The circumference of Earth is just under 25,000 miles, so I decided to make each hex 50 miles across. That makes Aeranore and Bragonay about the same size across and the United States. Hopefully that scaling will make my world feel huge and epic. I’m not too worried about travel time between places, since Exploration Age is full of many neat ways to get around, like airships, underground railways, portals, magic beasts of burden, and magically enhanced cobblestone roads. Let me know what you think of that scale. Is it too big? I really was having trouble judging it, but if you need to get around the world, that should take a while!

Blank Spots

Obviously a big part of Exploration Age is… well, exploration. So I’ve got a few big blank spots on the maps. Both of the poles, northern Glacius, most of Verda, and most of The Damned Lands. I’m actually thinking that when I put these materials out for others, I’ll include my DM map as well with the blank spots revealed for all those DMs out there. The blank spots do present a bit of a problem. In a world where airships exist, why haven’t people done fly overs to map out unknown areas? Well my friends, airships wouldn’t be much fun if they didn’t have a bit of danger! In Exploration Age, airships need to be recharged with raw arcane energy every 500 miles. This process is as quick as refueling a car, so it doesn’t really slow down travel. The refueling process requires a huge tower topped with a massive crystalline rod. The rods are then filled with arcane energy by mages once a year. All airships have an apparatus which allows them to connect to the rod and recharge. Since the towers take many years to build, there are few in Verda and almost equally few airships since they had to be built there, since they can’t be piloted across the ocean. This helps keep the game exciting. An airship adventure has danger and resource management. If you have one it doesn’t automatically let you surpass all challenges. Also airships will have to take certain routes. Picture an encounter on one of these towers, as a rod crackles with energy PCs must find their way to the ship above which is leaving in moments, or lie in wait for an enemy airship coming to refuel… or perhaps someone lies in wait for them!

What Do Ya Got?

Take a look for yourself. Here’s Canus! Let me know how I did.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!