Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to Create a World

This is going to be attempt at a series of posts on world creation. Yes it has been done before, in painful excruciating detail elsewhere. Yes I am probably not the most eloquent writer to be making an attempt at it. Oh well, this is where I hang my thoughts to be read and hopefully critiqued.

So world creation. It is a daunting task, one that I have wholeheartedly embraced with my current campaign group, and one which I will continue to love for every campaign I run. The key part of this is to realize you need to only make one world (unless you do something to end said world, I would start over then). This is good, as making a fully fleshed out world is impossible. The world you create will never be as detailed as the one we live in, we simply can not invent thousands or millions of years of history, myths for hundred or thousands of cultures or any of the other details that make the world we live in so rich in detail. We may only scratch the surface and blow smoke, trusting in our audience to suspend their disbelief, ask only what they need to know to engage with the world to a reasonable degree and, forgive us for the holes and errors that come up during the course of the game.

So where to begin? How I started was to decide what type of games I would be playing in this world. I decided upon fantasy only. No steam punk, no westerns, no space, no sci-fi. This is necessary as the entire world must conform to a single genre, else there will be logic errors through out that will be hard to reconcile with the players. Now, many people my believe this restriction to be too limiting, but those people have limited imaginations, and don't realize that there are really only a limited number of plot lines any way [look here]. Also, think of all the mythology found in the Romans, Greeks, various oriental and middle eastern cultures, the cultures of the various native nations through out the world, the Vikings, and of the U.K alone, not to mention the rest of Europe. All of this is fantasy world material, and the variations of stories are endless.

So having picked a broad over arching "theme" for the world, I sat down and drew it out. Many people disagree with this being the next step I have found, but I thought it was helpful. Determine the general size of the world, [earth size?, bigger?, smaller?], determine what gimmick, if any, you wish to use in the world, I personally when with each pole being opposite not only magnetically but in light level, so one is always dark and one is always light.

Start by drawing the outline of the world, or if you are doing something like floating islands orbiting a point, the outline of the area the islands would be contained. Draw in control lines, such as the equator, the line above which the world is always dark, or below which it is always light, and any other control lines you think you would need. Follow this by drawing in the shapes of the largest terrestrial bodies that the world has, the continents basically. Make sure you make the shapes interesting, and fairly varied. I spent about 2 weeks deciding on the continental layout of my world before I was happy with the layout and variation between them all.

Next I will go through the process of how I filled out one continents general layout.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Maps as Part of the Adventure

One of the best ways to present a world to your players is via a map. It makes everything more tangible and gives an easy to look at representation of travel time, geography, population density and many other things. Maps can also help create a certain style of game play or help set the voice of your world. My favorite part of using maps is that they can act as a great obstacle to the characters, or conversely, a great help.

So how can maps help create a style of game play? Well first we can look at the generalities of using a map versus not using a map. Games which do not use a map can not be as tactical, and rely on the players trusting the DM to not be clear and forgiving when it comes to distances, travel routes in combat and all the various combat rules that apply to them. When not in combat, there is a much less tangible feel of distance traveled, as it simply becomes a number of days or miles put in, as opposed to being able to trace a line from point A to point B along the route traveled, seeing the terrain as you do so, and evoking that feeling of "Holy Shit!?!?!? We came that far through that terrain", simply due to the fact that the description of travel will fall away and be forgotten, but the map re-describes the journey each time it is looked at.

Now that was just a general look at maps vs not maps, and it is easy to see how a map can help create a style of game play. I want to mention that while I prefer maps, mapless games are just as valid as mine, they just set a different tone to the game.

Now, to look at three styles of maps I know are used for games such as Pathfinder, at a long distance travel level. These three maps are  Point to Point, General Layout and Detailed.

Point to Point maps are the easiest to make, and the least detailed. They have the rough shape of a country/continent/world/etc and have all of the major locations shown on the map. There may be roadways drawn as well, but they are unnecessary for the Point to Point map. Other than the map there is some form of key denoting travel times between places and that is it. The map is basically a teleportation grid. There may be an encounter/encounters during the travel, but there are no routeing decisions, no risk of getting lost and, nothing notable between the points unless the DM mentions it during travel.

General Layout Maps are the kind I have used to create the initial layout of my world. I also use them in area where my Detailed maps are not yet finished. These maps have the key locations of the area, as well as key geographic features and layout of the world. They require little in the way of making past the Point to Point map though, generally just drawing in of mountains, rivers, plains and forests in great broad sweeps. The key difference is in how they are used. With a General Layout map, the party can travel where they want, knowing what the rough terrain is going to be and decide to avoid certain areas to affect travel times, ease of access, ease of pursuit etc. They give more responsibility to the party for their circumstances, good or bad, and help bring the world to life more.

Detailed maps are done at a scale of 20 mile to a side hexes or smaller. They give the positions of everything, as well as much more minute changes in terrain. The hexes I use are one mile to a side, so 2 miles from point to point, or 1.67 miles from face to face. The maps I generate with them are fairly detailed, and I annotate locations as small as hamlets of 2-3 people on them. In an ordinary day of travel my players cover 8 hexes, and I have created a movable halo over the map so they can only see 8 hexes in any direction from their point at any time. This means that the survival skill, as well as knowledge geography plays a larger role in my game when they are in difficult terrain.

These three styles of maps can help create many different voices for a campaign depending on how they are used. Point to Point maps helps create a game where the destination matters. The game could be a tactical string of missions or a nicely woven narrative, or anything in between, but the destination is more important than the journey.

General Layout maps help foster a game where the journey matters. It is not just about where we are going, but how we are getting there, and then leaving there that matters. It helps bring weather into play as getting caught in different terrains makes the same weather affect the party in different ways. The game does slow down a bit however, as the route must be chosen. This leads to more time between other scenes as the players determine the best way to travel through an area.

Detailed maps bring route choice to an entirely new level. They do not slow the game down much more than General Layout maps, they imply take a much longer time to create. They allow terrain choice to become a significant factor in the game, as well as travel route. It also brings the world more to the fore, as there are more details of it for the players to immediately see.

Now, I have just touched on the basics of maps here. There are many more ways to use them than this, and all three styles of maps have there place in creating the voice you want for your adventures. You can even use all three at different levels within the same game. I use the General Layout and Detailed types of maps for overland travel and for the players to plan their journeys with. In cities I use Point to Point maps, as the exact terrain and layout matters less as the excitement is largely at the destinations. However you chose to use maps, makes sure you put some thought into it before hand, as it can greatly help you run your game.