Monday, 1 August 2016

Blaugust 1, 2016: Worldbuilding for Games I

Ello kiddies! Blaugust first means a first blaug, so without further ado…

Now that I’m on full time work hours for the first time in my life, I am thinking about picking up some of my healthier hobbies again. This means dusting off my dice and running a fortnightly Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign!

I’m going to need to do some prep-work, such as creating a setting which sets the tone for the campaign, and writing up a whole mess of tables for patron demons, gods and whatnot. I tend to GM best when I let the players go where they will and just enforce consequences, informed by what is happening in the broader world. So, let’s set that tone, shall we? Build a world, figure out who lives there, and decide what is going on in it.

I have a world map that I have used for two iterations of a campaign setting now, but it isn’t inspiring me any more and I think I am over it. So I will start by creating a new one.
I’ve experimented with a lot of ‘random world generators’ and other methods of rustling up a world map, and few of them sit right with me. The resulting worlds tend not to support my own preconceived notions of cultural conflicts, trade routes, empire building, and such, so at this point I think it is best to go the other way around. Identify those preconceived notions and build the world around them.

The first notion is conflict. I’m a big believer that the forces of civilisation and order that have allowed society to develop to your fairly standard analogue of Europe in the 10th to 14th century have to be either breaking down sufficiently to allow chaos and weirdness to creep back in, or just be ‘otherwise occupied’ as it were, fighting among themselves as to whose idea of order gets implemented. To create conflict one needs proximity, but with a few natural geographical boundaries thrown in to allow different cultures to arise. Mountain ranges, forests, rivers and peninsulas are all great.

Today I’m going to start with a river, and draw it in on my map. By the size it will probably be the mightiest river in the world, with a nice delta at one end, and a crater lake at its source. The crater lake will be deep in a mountain range, I daresay, and a holy place. Perhaps some god or another smote some mythological figure with a fiery stone from the heavens there. The river delta will likely be an extremely fertile region, and a ‘cradle of civilisation’ type of place. The point at which the river diverges could be a holy place, a place of trade, or something. Perhaps there is an obelisk of unknown origin which has been there since time immemorial which parts the river? Yes, let’s go with that.
I could go one of two ways with the delta: either the region is a unified nation containing a variety of similar peoples, or it could be a hotbed of conflict full of people who war over their petty differences. That can be pondered on, but for now it is time to plonk down that mountain range I was talking about.

A big mountain range can be a more formidable barrier than a river, and it is likely that peoples either side of one will have had less contact, and as a result they will be more strikingly different. I was given a bunch of really cool mountain brushes somewhere along the road. I have no idea where they originated, but they are freaking awesome.

As you can see I completely isolated the valley within the mountain range. I am thinking I might fill it completely with forest, and have either a ‘lost civilisation’ type thing going on, or fill it with violently isolationist elves (dwarves/pixies/orcs/lizard people/fungoids) hiding from the plague that is man. I’ll find a good forest brush to make that look good later.

Things are taking shape. At this point there are some rules that the coastline is going to have to follow, so I might as well put some in. You’ll notice a few little bits and pieces here, such as the little peninsula jutting out, might get called ‘The Spur’ on maps. Then the big, round bay, which the river delta drains into, though only on one side. Why is that? I think there might be hills on the south-western and southern sides. Some sort of hillfolk can live there, inspired by the Celts and the Picts perhaps. You’ll also notice a series of islands just outside the bay. The large ones are almost certainly populated. The small ones could variously be secure or contested strongholds, pirate lairs, or uninhabited outcrops. The only certain thing is that they will have an effect on sea travel, trade, and warfare. They will make some great adventure locations, too!

Looks like I have a fair bit of detail to fill in, and I know that the next land mass over isn’t going to be too distant (more potential for conflict!), but that’s enough for now. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!


  1. I like this post a lot. World building had never been a talent of mine, seeing the ideas and logic informing your choices is rather lovely.

    I like the playful tone of your text here too. Great start to Blaugust, Mark!

  2. I do love seeing people's approaches to worldbuilding! I have a much more free-form approach but I love the way you're naturally just adding to it piece by piece until it becomes a thing.