World Building – Start With A Map

Every story starts with characters in a place. Often the first thing that happens is they need to go to another place. Stuff happens in between. Very many of the first questions have to do with place. Why are the characters where they are? How hard is it going to be to get from where they are to where they need to be? What is the place they need to be like? Why is it where it is?

This was my first doodles map of my new world.
This was my first doodles map of my new world.

Another core problem is why are these characters together? It is highly unlikely they are together as a party unless they are together in the starting place. Are they visitors to the starting place? Or natives, that have history and a home in the place?

In D&D your parties are almost always racially diverse. There are humans, elves, dwarves, gnome, etc. But a common troupe of D&D is there are kingdoms or domains or homelands for each of these races. There are dwarf cities underground. Elf kingdoms only partially in the forest of this plane. So why are your characters together where they are? Yes, part of character building is giving them a reason to have left their home, but generally that is looked on as why they become adventures, not why are they in the place they are in.

If you start with a map, you will start to get a feel for the places in the world. You’ll know how far your dwarf is from home. Where the centers of commerce and travel are.

Your map probably starts with geography, but sometimes geography is influenced by story. You aren’t looking to create a world for no purpose. You are doing it to tell stories in. That means you have to have mountains for the dwarves to live under. You have to have forests for elves, druids, and rangers1.

Another story element of geography is isolation. There are probably places you want it to be hard for characters to get to, especially low level characters. For instance the strong hold of the super powerful evil wizard isn’t somewhere you want lost 1st level characters to run into. So you need some hard to get to places to put those people. For instance on an island. So include some islands.

You also probably want a diversity of terrain. The typical fantasy story is modeled on medieval Europe, which is generally seen as mostly forested land with some plains and agriculture. As well as some mountains and seas. But what about desert? Jungle? Scrub lands?

Once you roughly layout the geography, the terrains, the rivers, the mountain passes, the coastline’s inlets and peninsulas, start thinking about where the people are. There are obvious places for congregations of people. Where two rivers meet. Where rivers meet the sea. On the coasts of rivers and lakes. Pencil in cities there.

Decide on travel. How do people get from one city to another? Wouldn’t it be cool to say for a particular city, “Oh, you can only access Kartan by river.”? Also cities become rich because they can easily get their goods to other cities and people. This means there are roads – or rivers – between those cities.

Now it is time to think about history.

Destroyed cities. Cursed cities. Countries. Warfare. Alliances that cause divides.

1 Or do you?

Recovering An Old Obsession – D&D

The guy who invented D&D has died. Don’t know if I would have made it through adolescence without that game.
– Ron Davis, Reactuate.com, March 4, 2008.

My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.
My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.

Recently I’ve rediscovered an old obsession and am returning to it. There are going to be a lot of D&D related posts on the blog, so I thought I’d write one explaining what’s going on.

You see a little over 33 years ago in High School I played D&D every weekend. I doodled maps on graph paper in class and wrote descriptions of the monsters who populated them. I envied my fellow players who could draw their characters. I ran games and reveled in creating cool scenarios for people to encounter. Places they could grow and enrich their characters.

Back then D&D wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. The Hack and Slash dungeon crawl was mostly all there was. Every week was another keep that needed to be cleaned out. Another week protecting the weak Magic User in the party till he could get enough XP to start throwing fireballs. A weekend of discovering new cool magic items and accumulating so many gold pieces you knew you were violating the carrying rules to get it back home.

Over the years I mostly didn’t play any role playing games. I did continue to acquire books. I have two whole shelves of books. I’ve got manuals from every version of D&D except 4th. Dozens of GURPS supplements even though I’ve never even played GURPS once.

I recently heard it said that character creation is a game inside of a game. I know that has certainly been true for my sons. They took to the books like fish to water and created characters all through school. But I don’t think they played the actual game except the one time I ran them through a keep full of kobalds on a weekend. Now one does interactive story telling on line every week and the other has GMed an ongoing campaign with his college friends.

D&D is enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s coming back into the conscience of the culture – or at least geek culture. The live streaming and YouTubing of gaming session is something to behold. I was totally hooked on the new 5th edition of D&D after watching the very polished Acquisitions Incorporated episodes on YouTube.

I also have to thank my friends Kevin and Jesica for inviting us to play Pathfinder. Pathfinder is a fork – to use a computer term – of D&D 3.5. It has been a blast to play my Gnome Berserker Tiny Tanya whose personality is based on Tiny Tina from Borderlands.

This was so much fun I wanted more. Playing every other week isn’t enough. Also I want to DM. So I’m working on a new campaign for D&D 5th Edition that I will be running in the near future. As I develop it, I’m going to be writing about it on the blog. This gets me back to my promise to do more creative acts.

Gary Gygax Died Today

The guy who invented D&D has died. Don’t know if I would have made it through adolescence without that game.

D&D and Church

Stubbled Upon this interesting story about what happen when one middle schooler asked another to play D&D and his mother got worried and went to her pastor.

D&D Baby

Via Accordian Guy: A great T-shirt for D&D player offspring.

I Spent Sunday in Azeroth

I’m totally addicted. Friday night I was up till 2 AM playing World of Warcraft. Sunday afternoon I played at least 5 hours straight. And I’d cram in short stays in that fantasy world every chance I get.

I’m exhausted right now and I am going over to another photographers house tonight to talk about three of us renting a studio downtown. Not sure I’m even safe to drive – thank God for Red Bull – much less make financial decisions.

For those of you who know enough to care, I’ve got a 17th level Night Elf Druid (Fors) and a 12th level Dwarf Hunter (Rccnra) with a level 9 Crag Boar pet. I’m playing on the Aggramar server if you are in the game.

I’m playing a hunter because I wanted a guy who could use a gun. I thought gnome warriors could so I made one of those and named it CCNRA – Card Carrying NRA. But found when I got to level 8 I wasn’t ever going to get a gun. So I made a new character and named it Rccnra – Real Card Carrying NRA.

Dolph Does Dragon-con

One of the instructors at the Supershoots Las Vegas workshop I’m going to in October spent the weekend at DragonCon in Atlanta. He decided to do something a little different than chicks with swords etc. The picture at the left is his. It’s awesome. And sad. And true, well maybe not totally true.

Dolph is known as “fetish” photographer. He does a number of different genres, and I like his stuff. It all has a fantasy feel. That’s fantasy in generic sense and not the swords and sorcery sense.

He won best photography of the show, which is pretty impressive. You know you don’t see a lot of photography artwork at SF/F/Anime cons. Seems a little strange.

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Reno 911 and D&D

Hell In A Handbasket sent a link to a clip from Reno 911 where they arrest a D&D player for shooting his buddy with an arrow. If you’ve got a Mac and can’t see the clip inline, here’s the direct URL to the WMV.

It is freaking hilarious. I especially like the part where the other cop is sympathizing with him and understand rolling an 18 and losing his saving throw.

Showed it to my office mate and he had another clip – audio only, but a standard MP3 and not some Microsoft POS. In this one they are talking to the same D&D guy who apparently hit someone with an axe

Mace is not in D&D.

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