Monday, June 28, 2010

Worldbuilding: Geogra-FFFFFFFFFF

Ugh, map time.

Maps are an important part of any setting to me. If things don't appear to make geographic or even meteorological sense, it can really get on my nerves. If you want, of course, you could just have every single area in your setting safely divided from each other via convenient and suspiciously box-like mountain ranges and cry "magic!", but that is a stupid way for dumb babies.

And it affects so much. Your location can affect everything - climate, exports, imports, trade, traffic, the kind of hats you get to wear, and most importantly, what kind of adventures you can have.

It's a little overwhelming to me, sometimes. I am never quite sure my extensive knowledge of geography and weather (obtained via Wikipedia, mostly) is good enough, and scale is always a problem for me. How big should this kingdom be in miles, and what sort of population would I be looking at? What the hell is a mile anyway? Damn Americans. What's a mile in English, huh?

But hey, I have a shiny degree and, more importantly, a stuffed bear named Professor Bearington to show that I at least have a modicum of intelligence, so let's go for it.

First Sketch: The Basics

The above "map" is an extremely rough sketch I did of my setting as it stands - it mostly concerns itself with regions that have actually been explored in games, and the rest are blank. To summarise:

The north-western continent is Lerioth, where most humans come from. The lower third or so is wedged between a mountain range and the coast, and this area is the cradle of human civilisation so far.

From left to right on Lerioth you have Brellan (a swampy gnome land, separated from Lerioth by a narrow sea), Aldanath (fairly standard fantasy kingdom), some other stuff (has been stated at various times to include a nation of druids and a Hollywood Ancient Greek-ish land called Epinoza, but nothing concrete), Genera (a generic (GET IT?) high-magic magocracy which also happens to be a floating island), Rayaleigh (very mountainous country, never decided exactly which part of Eastern Europe it was working off), dwarf land (a dwarven kingdom of unspecified size that covers above and below ground) and Czeras (forest land of the vanilla elves).

Northern Lerioth hasn't been touched on, though after I wrote "UMM" all over it in a previous map my players all decided there was a horde of Um Barbarians sweeping across it.

To the east, linked via the Iriscian Islands (islands, pirates, blah blah) sits Nhaudan, which is a stupid name now that I have grown out of my teens and removed the apostrophe. It is a little more exotic and has jungles and elves and whatnot.

The western edge is mostly inhabited by human settlers from Lerioth while the elves get dibs on the rest. There's Cabelaba (horribly generic standard fantasy kingdom I never did much with), Paladinia (lawful good theocracy with a silly name. Paladinia is actually the capital, someone suggested naming the region Aclerica), Merchant City (trade city run by people who like money), Jhaka (a peninsula of evil wizards) and, er, "elfland".

Taishiria is the usual Oriental Adventures-esque adventure area and the other one is a mysterious land of wastelands and dangerous creatures nobody has been to yet.

Second Sketch: Where To Start Over

I have to keep reminding myself that it's okay to dramatically change stuff. I fear retconning will annoy my players. Of course, I still have the old exercise book I originally sketched Lerioth in and it was a wildly different shape that included deserts, so it's not like I haven't changed it already.

I like the rough shape of the upper two continents, but the details of them keep bugging me.

  • How is mountainous Rayaleigh just kind of sitting there on the coast with some plains and forests on either side?

  • If the city-state of Jai-Kaldor is a trade city, shouldn't it have easy access to trade from Nhaudan as well?

  • Is there just one dwarven kingdom? How far does it go? What else is there in the mountains?

  • Why are there no deserts for easily-accessible desert adventures?

  • If southern Lerioth is a temperate climate, how far north can you get before it starts to get cold?

  • Can the Iriscian Islands really be a tropical island chain that far north, come to think of it? Wouldn't it have to be south of Lerioth?

  • Can Nhaudan's jungle environments exist "level" with Lerioth's temperate forests?

  • If Merchant City is just a city, Paladina and Jhaka's borders would be touching at most points. Given their outlooks, are they at war?

  • Why did I draw the continents as random blobs which have a vague relation to their actual shapes at best?


One problem that leaps out at me is that of environments - I'm not exactly certain what environments can exist where, and how I need to move things around to compensate.

My main problem, though, is just campaign prospects.

"Explored" Lerioth is mostly samey temperate environments. You have to go a damn long way to see a jungle, and there are no deserts to explore either. Also, there's not much "sideways" movement; mountain ranges mean that in both upper continents you are more or less moving along a "chain" of countries sitting there in a line, which strikes me as a little silly.

Well, it's time to move things around. I went ahead and scribbled on the sketch, marking places I can remove entirely with no consequence in red, things I can change drastically but would rather keep in yellow, and just left the ones I feel are fine as they are.

Aldanath has been used a lot - it was the setting of my first ever D&D game, in fact - so it stays. Jai-Kaldor is also fine, once I find somewhere to place it, and Jhaka, Merchant City and the Iriscian Islands are all fine as they are... well, now that I write this, maybe the Islands will get changed a lot, but screw re-opening that image.

Shifting Things Around

I will probably have to come back to this once I do more research to decide whether the environments I've described work in their locations, but for now...

First, Taishiria can go away. I'll move it elsewhere; Pathfinder apparently has it on the other side of the world, accessible via the north pole or something, but I mightn't move it that far. For now, though, I want to move the other continent down there - the mysterious one. That puts more terrain - mostly deserts - for me to play with near the major locations to start a campaign. I feel like the whole "mysterious continent of desert and jungles" thing has been done a million times before with people copying Africa, but I'll burn that bridge later.

Lerioth and Nhaudan can be moved closer together; the Iriscian Islands aren't that big. That makes the space between them more of a sea than an ocean. Apart from that, there's nothing I need to do right now.

Saving Things For Later

You might have noticed that large chunks of the map are blank. That is totally okay. It gives me a lot of room in case I have some ideas that don't fit into current locations, and this isn't a published setting anyway. (Not that it matters too much.)

Speaking of, I've heard that some settings took years to work into shape, anyway. I have no reason to pull a giant setting with as many detailed locations as established settings out of my ass just yet, and anyway most of those just get a page or two in some setting book and are then ignored in favour of writing adventures in the setting's handful of set-piece locations.

What I should be doing right now is focusing on the areas I've already come up with (and the areas I've decided I want to flesh out now, to a lesser extent), and adding more details. I want to get the most out of every space I've already filled, after all, and it might help me decide what to fill in the blank spots.

Zooming In

With that in mind, the prime campaign grounds are the south/east coasts of Lerioth and the western half of Nhaudan, and beyond those I should be fleshing out the dwarf and elf lands. If I sketch a slightly more accurate map of that region I get:

All right.

Rayaleigh makes more sense if I shift it upward into the mountain range, so it's getting shunted up in there. (It was never super important, anyway.) That leaves more room on Lerioth's south coast, and I think I should move Jai-Kaldor eastward so it has an easy route to Czeras and the shipping lines to Nhaudan. J-K actually has a satellite city, the town of Dragonport downriver which acts as a trade hub (and which I stole from DMG2, at least in name), so I can move Dragonport closer to the Islands and make it that connection J-K needs.

As for the rest, if I leave it as-is, that makes the map:

Rough locations for everything are circled in red. I noted that I've made room on the eastern tip, though frankly I'm not sure if that's not just more Czeras and I forgot to circle it. Hell, I could probably delete it.

I am getting a sneaking suspicion that it's going to become more inaccurate as time goes on, though. Those circles seem quite big, and I feel I can fit quite a lot of things between, say, Cabelaba and Paladinia or Paladinia and Jhaka. Maybe even whole countries. Also, Aldanath is definitely not that big compared to the rest of the continent. Besides, I might shift the Islands now, and that would change things a lot.

So, the space given to each particular country is shrinking, and I'm planning to add more detail to each of them too. Is it me, or is the outcome of this post that I gave myself more work?

Well, shit.

Oh, well. For now, I will detail the lands which my PCs are adventuring in right now, or have extensively travelled in the past, and then move on to the Deities and Demigods of this setting. The rest I'll fill in as time goes on, which by the looks of things might be months from now. Or more.

Next post will be on Aldanath. I am writing it as soon as I post this, in fact. Two posts in one day? Holy moly!


Blastcage said...


Ettin said...

Read the tags Blast


Anonymous said...

I especially love the "land of mystery or some shit i don't know". OF COURSE YOU DON'T KNOW! IT'S A MYSTERY!

Ettin said...

It could be a land of... not mystery.

It could be not mysterious at all!

I don't know!

Mozai said...

Y'know what was awesome about geography in the Middle Ages? Nobody knew about the entire freakin' continent, and if they did, either they didn't care, or it was wrong.
You seen a world map from 1200? How about from the Renaissance? Total crap, even though they knew the planet was a sphere since Ancient Greece.

This means whatever map you give the players could be one of the "wrong" maps, or there could be stuff off the side you can add later in the campaign. ("Mongol hordes? Attilla the Who? But there's nothing out there but steppes and bears and snow! WTF?!")

Mozai said...

Also, my own academic consultants, Miseur Fluffypaws and Madame SailorKeychain neé Mercury, ask me to advise you that computer video-game software already does an awesome job at the whole tectonic-plates, mountain-ranges, rivers, basins, and this-here-is-a-good-place-for-a-coal-mine-for-people-to-fight-over kind of geography. Fire up some empire vidya gaem, turn on the show all maps cheat mode, and trace it. Or even let the computer play itself to find out where typical medieval retards would do their urban planning.