Twitter Follow

Monday, August 13, 2018

World Building with No Time

Welcome back to Monday folks!

Fuck you Howard...

I had that coming I guess, but hopefully this blog will help brighten up your otherwise miserable day back at work/school, or if you're like me it will add a touch of sunshine to your otherwise cloudy, rainy, dreary life.  It's wet here guys, and it looks like it's going to stay that way today.

Maybe we start with a new podcast...this one may not make you smile as much as sneer, but hey, sometimes it's fun to be angry.  Don't want to give away any surprises, so have a listen.  It's short-n-sweet as usual.

I did promise Larry over at Follow Me, and Die Blog/Podcast a link to my AD&D1e ruleset resource on the Fantasy Grounds Forum, so here that is.  Remember, you need to be a member of the forum to download any links, so join in the conversation!

Today's blog post is something I probably touched on briefly in other posts, but never got around to fully exploring in a dedicated post.  I'm talking about World Building, and specifically, how I used to do it, to how I go about that business nowadays.

Back when I first discovered D&D, I remember being quickly introduced to the World of Greyhawk.  One of the first modules I was ever introduced to as a player was G1-3, better known as Against the Giants series, and via those modules I was introduced to a larger play-space, Greyhawk.  My DM at the time had been playing for about a year, and already had the PHB, the Monster Manual, and soon after a box appeared with a fully armored and mounted Knight on the cover, the World of Greyhawk, Fantasy Game Setting.

Honestly, when he pulled out that map and slowly unfolded it in front of me on the dining room table, I just about shit my pants with excitement.  It was magnificent, and I had never seen anything quite like it short of a fancy globe or map of the real world in school, both of which paled in comparison.

The only fantasy world maps I had ever seen were the small black and white doodles often placed in a fantasy novel before the prologue.  These small drawings helped give you some relational information, but really were unimpressive.  The Greyhawk map was a work of art, something that should be framed and mounted and displayed.  It brought D&D into my life, crossing the barrier between the real and the imagined.

It wasn't long before I became aware of DM's creating their own game worlds, spending hours, days, months and even years fleshing out the game space that inhabited their secret imaginations.  I don't think many had branched out too far from their Greyhawk roots, creating worlds with different kingdoms, less magic or more magic, with or without get my meaning here.  For the most part these fantastic realms started out as no more than simple shadows of Greyhawk, but each had a personal flourish that made it their creators own, a love child combining everything they loved about Greyhawk, and also included other influences literary, artistic, and imaginative.

I was not far behind my contemporaries.

Like my gaming friends ( a tight-knit group who shared the DM and players chairs with equal enthusiasm), I started by grabbing a pad of graph paper and attempting to map out my world.  About twenty pages later I had a coastline I was satisfied with.  Three hours had passed.  You see where i'm going with this?  Of course you're a bright one you are...

It's likely I spent a year that way, drawing, mapping, populating, and grooming my game setting to be every bit as interesting and well thought out as Greyhawk...which it 100% was not.  No need for the gritty details here, but suffice it to say that I created while I was a player so that when it was my turn at the helm to DM, my friends would be amazed at what I had wrought.  I filled notebook after notebook with people, places, and plot hooks.

My friends wanted two things:

1. To try playing in a new Fantasy Setting known as Krynn
2. To not have me Lord it over them as DM of not only the game system but now the world I had crafted.

This was not in my plan, but I bowed to the majority and ran Dragons of Despair.  Honestly, that could be the reason that to this day, I really hate Krynn.  I know it has alot of devotees, and I did enjoy the novels at the time (well, certainly the first few), but if I never play in or run another game in Krynn it won't be too soon.

Meanwhile, my own setting languished in my desk drawer until a few years later I moved, and having found a few new folks to play with who were eager for someone to DM, I was able to enjoy playing through my game world.

...and then the 1980's came to an end.

Let's fast forward to 2008.  Alot of changes took place and now the internet is a thing, and it's also the year I discovered the VTT Fantasy Grounds.

Forgetting the differences in approaching a game IRL vs. online, the basics are the same, and I really wanted to develop a homebrew game world for playing with friends.  The intent was to leverage the power of the platform (the computer) and also make sure that my homebrew world would work online and offline.  It called for a new approach to building a world than graph paper and a notebook, even though these were just fine for IRL play only and continue to be useful tools for casual note-taking and info-gathering.

This time I downloaded a map from here using the Fantasy World Generator, which produced a nice Hexmap I could use for Story-driven or sandbox play.  The server takes a bit of time so let the browser wheel spin...don't keep clicking, let it do the work for you.  The resulting map is a PNG file that is easily editable in GiMP or Photoshop which was perfect.  In this way, I could add cities, towns, villages, dungeons, or whatever I wanted easily as the game progressed.

You see, I wasn't planning on building the world before we started to play, I was going to build it during gameplay using a combination player interaction, sandbox play with tables and pregen encounters and NPC's, and a little bit of pre-game prep to build the setting.  All I had to start with was a the computer-generated map and an idea for an initial town encounter to pull the party together.  The rest was open-ended and could have gone in any direction, much like a traditional sandbox...

...but I don't love endless sandbox play.


As the game played out and I could see the sort of group/party that was coalescing, I began to shape the gameworld.  A rumor here, a sacred text there, I just rolled on tables and when a table didn't fit there was years of experience guiding my hand.  The World of Thayrun (that's what I called it, and honestly I should have spent a few more minutes on that.  I don't love it.) was born and the players both uncovered it's past and simultaneously and organically grew its future.

What were the mechanics I used to manage it?  That's a good question.

Fantasy Grounds is a great tool for world building, and it's an aspect of that software that doesn't get spoken of much.  You can add endless tables, NPC's, encounters, magic items, maps, and images to the campaign world and all of it is exportable.  That's key here.  

I usually start something like a small dungeon, monster idea, or magical item creation in Google docs and then copy/paste it later into FG2.

As new places are discovered on the map I alter the map in my graphic editor and then republish the map to FG2.

Some rulesets (including D&D5e) allow the use of 3rd party extensions that make world building even easier, like the ones created by Dulux-Oz over in the FG forums that are found here!  The Locations and Organisations extensions are particularly useful if the ruleset you play supports it.

Obviously there are a thousand ways to skin this particular cat.  The tools you use to create the world are less important (IMHO) than the method you adopt when you decide that a homebrew world is something you'd like to produce.  If your time is limited, like mine, then allowing the game itself to generate the wider, more wonderful world at large may be the method for you.  It's not that the idea of sitting down for a few weeks at a time and hacking out a game setting isn't appealing to me.  It's just as appealing now as when I was 13, maybe more so.  I'd love to get lost in that level of creation, but my schedule and life simply don't allow for a block of time that extensive.

I'm not sure if Roll20 allows for this method of building a world, but I'd be interested to hear about your experiences if this is your VTT platform of choice.

Next post I'll continue this theme by discussing my homebrew world a bit more specifically...the Gods, the monsters, the magic, and the tie that binds them all.

In the on!


  1. Big fan of FantasyGrounds and if FGU gets off the ground as soon as they are hoping it'll be even better.

    I've written a ruleset for it that is for AD&D. Has all of the 5E rulesets bells and whistles but for AD&D games.

    Best of luck on the homebrew work! I miss the early days of D&D. Greyhawk is/was my favorite setting and still use it when I play.

    1. I have a link to your ruleset in the blog post's been great! I hope others find it and dig on it as I have.

      Wondering something...will Dulux-Oz's extensions work with the ruleset? I have the extensions but they don't show as available when I pre-fire up the ruleset...would love to use Locations and Organisations with my ADnD1e game.

      thanks again for reading and for all of your hard work.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I tried to post host to fix but the comment parser ate the formatting. Let's try this.

      You'll have to open DOE's extension (I use DOEBase and DOESound) into a folder in your extension/directory. Within those folders is a file called extension.xml. Edit that and add in the highlighted text here:

      It's kinda a pain but once you do that you can see the extension to load. I should just ask Dulux to add it to the list (and I will do so right after this).

    4. Super man! thanks...I will futz around with it tonight. Will make worldbuilding so much easier. I've been keeping too much in the 'notes' Section for my own comfort :)

  2. Is it me, or are all Clyde Caldwell's women just about young Stevie Nicks perfect?

    1. It's not you...he's a big fan. Also likes him some Lita Ford!