Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Recently I found myself in a situation where I had to submit an original medieval fantasy TRPG setting for some work. Ultimately I did not get the job, but my submission got me in the door and helped me make it to the final round of interviews. I’m pretty proud of it. The best part about the rejection is that now I get to share my work with all of you.

I only had an hour or so of free time between the time I got wind of the assignment and the time I had to submit. No problem. Creating, outlining, and describing an original world in a short amount of time is exactly what I do. Let me show you how.

1. Get An Idea

This does not have to cut into your designated hour of worldbuilding. Sure, you could sit down and have a quick brainstorm but you could think about it while you go about the mundane. Instead of watching Netflix while you do the dishes or catching up on your favorite podcasts while showering or working out, let your mind wander about the world you want to create. Think of a strong central idea like, “Dragonborn run an evil empire and are more numerous than any other race in my island world,” or, “A century of warfare has changed everything,” or “There are huge blank spots on the map and everyone wants to be the one to fill them.” Feel free to start by stealing an idea from somewhere else to get inspired, and then twist the idea to make it your own. While running a cool five miles I came up with my central idea for this pitch, “Monsters rule the world below, the undead rule the surface, the civilized races are trapped in the sky.”

2. Outline in Bullet Points

Now that you’ve got a good idea it’s time for a rough world outline. If you’re limited on time, just write out your big ideas and any details you’re afraid you’ll forget while writing the rest of the world’s description. Then go back and quickly put the details of your world in some sort of chronological order. My world outline for this pitch looked like this.

  • In the beginning humans, elves, half-elves, halflings, and dragonborn ruled the surface in 13 cities.
  • 13 cities form a nation ruled by a council of 13 mage governors.
  • In the beginning dwarves and tieflings lived together in one massive city underground.
  • A mage governor fears death, becomes a lich, makes undead army.
  • Undead army takes surface city, many dwarves and tieflings get away, undead have harder time chasing them down in the monster infested tunnels.
  • 6 remaining surface cities are lifted into the sky by their mage governors and now float safe above the undead.

3. Come Up With A Campaign Arch Outline

Once your bullet point outline is ready, make another. Think of your campaign’s potential arch within the world. The story might change as your game goes on since it hinges on the actions of the PCs, but it’s good to think about your campaign’s overall arch before you put meat on the bones of the world outline. Why? Because your campaign’s outline could affect the world outline. Maybe your campaign calls for a villain or earthshaking event you haven’t included in the world outline. If you add details to from you campaign outline to your world outline, those details will feel less tacked on (e.g. suddenly wand theory is a huge plot device which shows up in the final book of the Harry Potter series). Here’s what my campaign outline looked like for this pitch.

  • PCs start transporting goods for a mage governor and have to fend off sky pirates.
  • PCs find sky pirates which attacked them part of some greater plot.
  • PCs slowly uncover the secret plot – the pirates and others (including high-ranking public officials) are feeding intelligence about the people living in the sky cities to the undead below, but why?
  • PCs investigate plot by exploring the surface world of the undead and are aided by the dwarf and tiefling survivors who have evaded the undead by living a nomadic life underground.
  • PCs discover the undead are building their own airships and making dracoliches to attack the sky cities.
  • PCs return home to defend against the attack and discover the attack is only half the plan. If the undead get close enough to the cities they can enact a ritual that will crash the sky cities into the ground, killing many. Battle may be won or lost depending on the actions of the PCs.
  • After the battle PCs discover the location of the leader lich’s phylactery.
  • PCs must go back to the surface to destroy leader lich once and for all.

Once I outlined this possible campaign arch, I went back and added these bullet points to the world outline:

  • After being in the sky for 50 years, resources for the sky cities are limited and a large economic gap forms between the wealthy and the poor.
  • Some of the poor turn to piracy for money and others enlist to fight the pirates and protect the goods of the rich.

4. Describe the World (and the Campaign Arch)

Now that you’ve got your outlines, that may be all you need to run your first session. If you want to share the world information with your players, post it on Obsidian Portal, or submit it for a job, you’re going to need to flesh it out a little more. With an outline in chronological order, it’s easy to throw down a few paragraphs to describe your world.

There is one main hang-up I have that stops my writing cold – coming up with proper names. I like to keep my flow while I’m writing so I use simple placeholders. Then I go back and replace those placeholders after I’m done the lion’s share of writing. This seems to make everything go a lot faster since I can be focusing on fleshing out the outline and then switch over to proper name mode. I simply write NAME in all capital letters when I need a proper name I haven’t thought of yet. This makes it easy to find later when revising.

Write no more than 5 – 10 paragraphs. Time is of the essence, pitches should be short, and if you’re writing this for your PCs or Obsidian Portal, know that most folks won’t read pages and pages of description.

Here’s the description of the world I created for the pitch.

Six floating cities hover above the darkness of Enora in Bound Sky. Once a prosperous nation, Enora was home to humans, elves, halflings, gnomes, and dragonborn. The country was run by the Dordune, a council of mage governors, each acting as the leader of one of Enora’s thirteen major cities. Beneath Enora’s surface, the nation’s dwarf and tiefling allies lived happily in the kingdom of Drakefire. Except for the occasional marauding gnoll pack or angry dragon, all was well in Enora. Any threats which appeared were dealt with swiftly and efficiently by the Dordune.

Fifty years ago Governor Kira Vae, an elf wizard, was nearing the end of her long life. Some say fear of death gripped the governor, others say it was an unsatiated lust for power. Whatever the reason, Vae transformed herself into a lich. The transformation warped her mind, seeding a dark hatred of all life in her heart. The lich declared herself Empress of Enora. Empress Vae turned the citizens of her city, Cambor, into an undead army. The rest of Enora tried to stand against the threat, but so sudden and severe did the undead strike that seven of Enora’s cities fell to Vae.

Every victory added more soldiers to her undead ranks. Messengers were sent to Drakefire, asking for military against the undead legions, but the underground kingdom was already over run by Vae’s minions. Any survivors from Drakefire had already fled even deeper underground by the time the messengers arrived.

As the armies of Empress Vae closed around Enora’s six remaining cities, the Dordune made a decision to enact a powerful ritual which raised the cities and their people into the sky away from Vae and her undead. Away from a fight they knew they could not win. As the cities rose, Vae swore to eradicate the rest of Enora’s living. She is eternal as is her hate for all people who defy her.

Now the six floating cities of Deldoroth find themselves safe from Empress Vae’s undead, but they have their own troubles. With limited land to produce resources, the six cities have begun treating each other more like separate countries than one cooperative nation. The Dordune have disbanded and each governor acts as a city’s monarch. As competition for food, water, and shelter grows each day, many less fortunate turn to a life of crime or legal savagery to survive. Airships transporting goods from one city to another are wary of pirates, and many make a killing or die trying in the cities’ gladiatorial arenas (which were introduced by the governors to help control population growth).

Beneath Deldoroth, dead Enora can no longer be seen. Thick layers of black clouds hang between the floating cities and the surface. The undead built massive stoves and constantly pipe ash into the sky to blot out the sun they hate so much. Sometimes at night the victorious howls of the undead can be heard through the blackness by the people of Deldoroth. It is an unsettling reminder that Enora is no longer their home and what drove them out long ago still hungers for them.

If you have the time, go ahead and flesh out your campaign outline too. I wanted to do this for the pitch to give an idea of the adventures I’d create, but even if you’re not pitching it will be helpful to have a fleshed out description of your potential story to refer to. This is less necessary for home campaigns since you won’t be sharing it, but still helpful to you as the GM.

Over-the-top action and sprawling mysteries will be the hallmarks of Bound Sky. The campaign opens with a massive airship battle. The players, hired as merchant guards, encounter pirates and battle for their lives. After the battle the heroes discover a mysterious message to the pirates from a higher power. These aren’t your normal pirates. They’re part of something much bigger.

The story unfolds in Deldoroth’s soaring cities as our heroes uncover a conspiracy. The first learn that some of the pirates and then that some of the officials in Deldoroth have been working with the undead armies of Empress Vae. She’s planning something big, but to learn what will require closer investigation.

The heroes journey down to the undead-infested Enora and navigate the dangerous territory by disguise or by stealth. Diving into old ruins, gathering intelligence from enemy-infested cities, and aided by the nomadic survivors of Drakefire, the PCs discover Empress Vae has begun building airships of her own and converting dragons to dracoliches. She is planning an enormous attack on Deldoroth.

It is up to our heroes to convince the people of Deldoroth to work together to defeat this incursion. As they work to negotiate with various leaders, the PCs uncover another mystery. Empress Vae has discovered the source of the magic which keeps the cities of Deldoroth afloat. She plans to disrupt this magic and crash the cities. If she succeeds, the death toll will be catastrophic.

The heroes stop Vae’s forces from destroying Deldoroth, but the victory is costly and the empress could return at any time with more forces. Thanks to a captured dracolich lieutenant, the PCs learn the location of Vae’s phylactery. The heroes must make another perilous journey into Enora, this time into Vae’s stronghold in Cambor. It is up to them to destroy the phylactery and slay Empress Vae once and for all to save their homes.

Check it out! I’ve even got a description of my first encounter in there. There’s enough information I could improv my way through the first session or possibly the entire campaign if I have no more free time to dedicate to preparation.

5. Got a Little More Time? Map it Up!

If you have some more time, maps are great worldbuilding resources that help make your setting come to life for both you and your players. They’re also a good tool for judging travel obstacles and distances from one place to the next. I created the two maps below in less than hour using roll20.net, but you can checkout any number of easy to use resources to create a map quickly.

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So there you have it! One-hour worldbuilding. Simple stuff!

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!

 

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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.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast 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’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!