As I described on Thursdayâ€™s blog entry, after the announcement of 4th Edition in August â€™07 I set-out to redesign my old 2e/3e campaign setting for 4e. Instead of just a mere update where I crossed-out â€śhalf-orcâ€ť and wrote in â€śdragonbornâ€ť or slipped references to warlocks, I wanted a complete reimagining.
My setting was a concept world:Â a world based around an idea or variation thatâ€™s a central element to the world or campaign set in it.
The axis of my world was sharply tilted so one side always faced sun and the other side always faced away. It still rotated but the sun never moved so it was continually noon at one pole. For real-world examples of this look at our moon (one side always faces Earth) or Neptune.
The background was simple: the world was once a place of magical wonders where the mystic replaced the technological, until the Great Catastrophe came and shattered the world.
My first couple campaigns had problems. The first was related to my first world building tenant: Theme. My world had none other than its funky concept. So, for the most part, it played like generic fantasy. The PCs settled into their â€śoverthrow the evil overlordâ€ť plot before I knew what was happening.
The second problem was related to my fourth point: Complexity. I hadnâ€™t considered what no day and night might do to a game.
The latter problem proved to be the most difficult: how did crops grow? Were there seasons? When did people sleep? Did they always have to use torches/candles?
Then the subtle problems crept in. How did spells with durations measure in one day work? How were lycanthropes affected? Given thereâ€™s always some sunlight, how do undead work? How would people measure time?
After Eberron was released there was the additional problem that my background for the world (a magitech setting) seemed less unique and interesting.
When I decided to re-imagine the world these were the first things I wanted to address. The world had to be relatable and not stretch the understanding. If my players were busy trying to figure out if **** would crow endlessly theyâ€™d miss part of the adventure.
Theme: I decided early on that my â€śconceptâ€ť was simply not enough. While it was interesting to have this simultaneous burnt and frozen world with a Goldilocks zone in the middle (where it was juuuust right), this did nothing to make the kingdoms in the middle less generic.
After brainstorming I settled on the theme of â€śpost-apocalyptic fantasyâ€ť. True, this could also be applied to the Dark Sun campaign setting, but that world has other elements going for it (such as the dying world, psionics, and the fact itâ€™s D&D for people who hate everything about standard D&D).
Post-apocalyptic fantasy instantly gave a feeling to the world and a starting point for building. Cities would always be built atop of recent ruins: thereâ€™d always be reminders of the older, greater civilization. Thereâ€™d be areas that are wastelands and blasted ruins. It also allowed me to steal from the various clichĂ©s and tropes of the genre: the people who find a faith, crazed cultists, people trying to rebuilt the past, the wastelands, lost knowledge, mutants, vaults of survivors, lost cities, forgotten weapons, etc.
Complexity: After my initial problems with the dayless/nightless world I decided to take a step back towards normality. Playing with a globe and a light and testing how my world would work, I decided the axis would not be facing directly to the sun, so thereâ€™d be a little wobble; at the equator there would be a regular day and night with the day going longer the farther north you went until the sun never truly set and just skimmed the horizon. And vise versa. This left a fairly lengthy equatorial stretch of relative normality right where I had planned to have the liveable spaces.
So I simplified my world to make it less distracting.
On the other hand, I also sat down and planned the direction of the air currents. Air around the equator tends to flow against the spin of the earth (inertia and all) with currents to the north and south changing direction. Thereâ€™d also be a continual cycling of low-pressure air from the north brining high-pressure cold air northward from the south (along with frozen moisture which would cause rain).
Knowing which way the wind blew let me figure out interesting details for my world such as where storms would most likely hit (thereâ€™s a convenient tornado alley right down the middle of one of my nations). While no meteorologist, Wikipedia taught me enough to make a rough stab which brought some interesting life to the world while also adding needed verisimilitude.
When dealing with the alien and unknown, the human mind latches on to the familiar. If a fantasy world lacks some reality to ground itself, thereâ€™s a mental break.
Geography: Having a half-desert, half-glacier world makes the geography easier. There are no coastlines or continents to shape. (Fantasy continents come in two shapes: the Tolkien/Realms half-continent where they only map a coast and a wide swath of land â€“also see the map of the Wheel of Time â€“ or the horizontal oval like Dragonlance, the four lands of Eberron, and many others.) For my world I only had to draw rivers and plan out where the types of terrain would be.
For size, I settled on a land roughly the size of China. Itâ€™s a nice easy real-world landmass but relatively small on a global scale. It gave me plenty of room to place other nations and places of interest if I expand farther outward.
Conflict: One of the big ones. When I designed the nations of my old world, I made an amateur mistake and basically divided the lands into good and evil nations: nations ruled by good, just rulers and nations ruled by foul, corrupt, and evil rulers. Few nations are perfect and even beloved leaders can do horrible things. Itâ€™s a hard thing to do. When you make a character for D&D one of your choices is alignment so itâ€™s hard not to assign one to your kings and emperors. Â
When I re-imagined the world I tried to make each nation both good and bad. Two of the old nations were a democratic coalition of cities and a former slave nation that had rebelled and formed a bland kingdom Iâ€™m having trouble describing with sound bytes. I dumped both and replaced the first with a coalition of loosely aligned city-stated that worked together for mutual defence. The nation quickly became darker as I placed it by a swamp that had flooded the landscape and each city became places of sin and depravity as its inhabitants were composed of people who fled the neighbouring theocracy (or didnâ€™t flee into the theocracy away from the depravity). Meanwhile, I kept the roots of the other nation but decided it had switched from slaver system to a serf/ indentured servant system, so there was still an impoverished workforce but one that was no longer property and had the potential for advancement. I added strong class divisions and entrenched nobility.
As I described in an earlier post, I also created mutually opposed religions (which I later replaced by multiple opposed religions). And despite being clichĂ© I decided the general populace would dislike arcane magic. I also added some racial tension by making many races former slave races of the elves and/or the humans, and had the elves occupy human lands creating a lasting resentment.
For my current adventure the new, revamped world is coming in handy. Iâ€™m setting an adventure in my recently designed capital (see recent blog posts) and am relying much of the action of the adventure on political machination. Iâ€™ll be placing the PCs in a city divided between the very rich and very poor and letting them pick-sides and decide where they want to go next.
But thatâ€™s the topic of my next blog post (likely Monday).Â