Bay 12 Games Forum

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
Advanced search  

Author Topic: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding  (Read 273 times)

ShoesandHats

  • Bay Watcher
  • Shoes cancels Drink: Intensified by Penguin Man.
    • View Profile
I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« on: March 14, 2017, 10:03:05 pm »

EDIT: I just found a larger general thread for DnD so I'll probably just go ahead and post this over there instead, I guess.

I've been planning out a DnD campaign to DM for my friends. The problem is, this is my first experience playing DnD, let alone being the DM, so I'm kind of flying by the seat of my pants here. I have a map, I have a general idea of what the main goal of the campaign will be, and I have an okay idea of what the first adventure/dungeon will be like. However, the only parts of my world that I've really fleshed out are those that pertain directly to the main story and the first adventure.

I'm worried that the players will either a) feel like they're being railroaded or b) end up in a part of the world that I haven't thought about at all and have nothing to do.

Here's what I've got so far. Sorry if it sounds a little awkward, this was all written for my own reference:

Spoiler: Summary (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: World Map (click to show/hide)

For context, the eastern end of the largest landmass is Alemic while the western end is Oraya.

Also, this is my first time posting on this forum in a couple years, so, uh, hi again.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2017, 10:15:53 pm by ShoesandHats »
Logged

Harry Baldman

  • Bay Watcher
  • What do I care for your suffering?
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2017, 09:27:25 am »

Quote
When Leonard comes into the vicinity of the artifact (or maybe touches it?) his ancestral magic will kickstart it into action, inadvertently "waking" Maki and sending him on a direct course to Oberon, the planet of our setting.

Dammit Leonard, why'd you go and do something like that

Anyway, what kind of artifact are we talking here? It seems to me like it'd have to be something like city-sized to go and nearly extinguish a sun. Which would be pretty fun - imagine being inside a sun-killing god-machine as it fires up and flares with ancient unstable magic.

Moreover, what exactly does the artifact do? I imagine it kills suns in one way or another, or at least grievously harms them. If so, then when it activates would it go out and shoot down Fyr? Thus sending Maki on a quest to come back and get revenge for the planet that nearly killed its brother?

Imagine something like a hundred days of endless night if the artifact fires up, followed by Maki returning in full and bringing a hundred days of searing red light. That'd be something for the theologians to think about.

Also how exactly are Fyr and Maki different? Do they embody different concepts in the popular consciousness? Are they particularly different in actual character? Are they actively shaped by the beliefs of the Oberonians? What religions exist around them and/or other gods, if there actually are any?
Logged

Tawa

  • Bay Watcher
  • The first mankind, all over the world!
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2017, 02:27:13 pm »

A few questions and comments regarding your map:

- I see you've put down 20 countries, but only 13 of them have names. This implies to me that you've prioritized putting down borders over fleshing out the countries. This is almost certainly a bad idea; letting your countries grow naturally as you write their histories is a much more natural and fun process than trying to fill an arbitrary number of countries and writing backstories to justify their borders.

- On that note, what kind of culture do your countries have? How do the people there live? This kind of stuff is more important than you can imagine. Making places more distinct than "Generic European Fantasy" is key to having an immersive and interesting world.

- You're pretty good about rivers! A classic rookie worldbuilder mistake is making all of the rivers backwards, and you mostly seem to just have several rivers with deltas. But what's with that lake that flows backward up in the north? Extremely large lakes like that are never spring-fed, as far as I've heard.

- Why is all of that space uninhabited? There's nothing wrong with having area where nobody lives, but there should be a reason why. Looking at real-world history, typically only the most truly inhospitable places of the Earth were completely uninhabited--even "empty" land like the Mongolian steppes or the frozen north of Fennoscandia has people who live there. Alternatively, is the empty space on the main landmass Orc territory, as your backstory seems to imply? If so, you should probably mark that--usually, even areas with no rigid nation-states occupying the region are marked with something like "such-and-such tribes" or "so-and-so territory".

- How big is this stuff? Like, is this place Europe-sized or Asia-sized? Does it take a week to get from Espera to Eralta or a month?

- Where's this High Lake? Is it the hole-looking thing at the Galta-Alem border?

- What is the purpose of the seemingly uninhabited landmasses to the east and south?

ShoesandHats

  • Bay Watcher
  • Shoes cancels Drink: Intensified by Penguin Man.
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2017, 06:14:05 pm »

Anyway, what kind of artifact are we talking here? It seems to me like it'd have to be something like city-sized to go and nearly extinguish a sun. Which would be pretty fun - imagine being inside a sun-killing god-machine as it fires up and flares with ancient unstable magic.

I was thinking it would be some kind of large crystalline structure. Maybe not the size of a city, but maybe it's hollow and big enough for the party to go inside.

Moreover, what exactly does the artifact do? I imagine it kills suns in one way or another, or at least grievously harms them. If so, then when it activates would it go out and shoot down Fyr? Thus sending Maki on a quest to come back and get revenge for the planet that nearly killed its brother?

Imagine something like a hundred days of endless night if the artifact fires up, followed by Maki returning in full and bringing a hundred days of searing red light. That'd be something for the theologians to think about.

I don't want it to be immediately obvious what just happened when they activate this thing. Kinda make it a quest in and of itself out of finding out what they managed to do. I'm thinking the crystal might act as a lens for a giant laser or something. Maybe Leonard's grandpappy will wake up as a dracolich and crash through the ceiling, giving the artifact a line of sight to Maki.

Also how exactly are Fyr and Maki different? Do they embody different concepts in the popular consciousness? Are they particularly different in actual character? Are they actively shaped by the beliefs of the Oberonians? What religions exist around them and/or other gods, if there actually are any?

At this point, Maki is mostly just associated with Orcs and its effects on them. Back in the day, though, Maki was seen as the more chaotic and fiery of the two suns, partly because of his red color. He wasn't evil per se, but he was a little bit of an asshole as gods go. Fyr is and was seen as the more reliable 'life-giver'. After millennia spent in isolation harboring a grudge, though, Maki is pretty much insane and entirely malevolent, so his return is definitely an apocalypse-type scenario.

A few questions and comments regarding your map:

- I see you've put down 20 countries, but only 13 of them have names. This implies to me that you've prioritized putting down borders over fleshing out the countries. This is almost certainly a bad idea; letting your countries grow naturally as you write their histories is a much more natural and fun process than trying to fill an arbitrary number of countries and writing backstories to justify their borders.

This is true, I did prioritize the Europe-equivalent countries because that's where the party will start out. I should probably work out the Asia-equivalents a bit more, yeah.

- On that note, what kind of culture do your countries have? How do the people there live? This kind of stuff is more important than you can imagine. Making places more distinct than "Generic European Fantasy" is key to having an immersive and interesting world.

Like I mentioned, Alemic is basically the Europe equivalent of this world. That being said, I like the idea of it being based a bit more on less conventional European mythology than the standard fairytale stuff. For example, I think Galta's culture should be more like the Gauls than medieval France.

- Why is all of that space uninhabited? There's nothing wrong with having area where nobody lives, but there should be a reason why. Looking at real-world history, typically only the most truly inhospitable places of the Earth were completely uninhabited--even "empty" land like the Mongolian steppes or the frozen north of Fennoscandia has people who live there. Alternatively, is the empty space on the main landmass Orc territory, as your backstory seems to imply? If so, you should probably mark that--usually, even areas with no rigid nation-states occupying the region are marked with something like "such-and-such tribes" or "so-and-so territory".

Like you said, my idea of that space is mostly just a collection of Orcish tribes. I like the idea of there being a larger Khanate further west, though.

- How big is this stuff? Like, is this place Europe-sized or Asia-sized? Does it take a week to get from Espera to Eralta or a month?

I wasn't really thinking too much about this when I made this map a while ago, but I'm pretty sure the proportions are pretty close to those of Earth. That being said, I'm still a but fuzzy on travel times/distances. Most DnD maps (to the best of my knowledge) use a system of hexes with each hex representing a set distance or travel time. How big do you think each hex should be if I use a system like that?

- Where's this High Lake? Is it the hole-looking thing at the Galta-Alem border?

Yeah, you got it. In my mind it's a crater formed from the impact of a comet, with the lake itself being the melted ice from the comet. I know the physics doesn't really check out on that, but it's fantasy, so y'know.

- What is the purpose of the seemingly uninhabited landmasses to the east and south?

I'm still not entirely clear on what to do with those. It's possible they're uninhabited, but I'm not sure.
Logged

Harry Baldman

  • Bay Watcher
  • What do I care for your suffering?
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2017, 05:29:34 am »

I think a big problem of this map is that it's very much a world map as opposed to a regional one - that's not actually you want something in a map to start with because in D&D it's spectacularly unlikely you're going to be moving particularly far from where you started before you get access to things like teleportation and wind walking and stuff like that, and that's at least half a year in the future if you're starting at level 1, assuming a weekly game that takes off properly.

What you want instead is a regional map. For one, it's helpful because you can populate it with as few as 8 major points of interest (major ports, hilltop temple complexes, great metropolises of magic and so forth, perhaps use a random generator to come up with the fun key details about each one) and be pretty much golden and it won't feel at all underpopulated. The major problem with leaving the full world map out there is that it lets the players know how little you know about the world in that its geography is very nicely filled out while the political entities within are few and far between. Even a theoretically uninhabited jungle should have someone living in it - there always are people of some kind around, forming petty kingdoms even in the densest and most inhospitable territories. Trying to fill out the entire world is a good way to give yourself sandbox paralysis and not get anywhere at all. Consider also the immediate powers just off the edge of the map and how they interact with what you've got on the regional map - to use the medieval Europe example, France has essentially nothing to do with what happens in Bulgaria, but the Byzantines certainly have a potential stake in things!

When you've got the major points of interest down, add the ruins of old civilizations in there someplace (for instance, the pre-Orcish Fyrites and the ruins they try and still hold together, or a Maki-worshiping theocracy that fell apart when their god withdrew from the world, or at least withdrew to secrecy and isolation themselves within secluded complexes filled with treasures).

Then add in stuff relating specifically to the PCs, usually on the local scale where they would be hanging out. For instance, an ancient temple where an archivist might find the prayers he needs to learn new spells, a grove inhabited by a powerful spirit that the druid would be interested in speaking to or bargaining for powers, a regionally recognized school of swordsmanship and/or fighting arena for the fighter, a circle of chatty ascetics atop a dangerous mountain infested with giants for the monk to learn from, an alcoholic, washed up 17th level immortal wizard who squats in an abandoned mage tower for the wizard or bard, a notorious gang of daring thieves for the rogue to rub elbows with, an ambitious young dragon who'd get along with the sorcerer, a family member of one of the PCs with their own adventuring past and current troubles... the sky's the limit, really.

Shit, now I really want to build a campaign world and run a game again.

EDIT: Oh, and another thing you probably don't want to do in a game of D&D is lack ambition in your worldbuilding. Don't settle for 'Imma make me a version of medieval Europe', because medieval Europe doesn't make any sense if magic (divine and arcane), cosmic forces and mythical races come into play. Go big! Put in some legitimately weird and unusual stuff. Draw inspiration from science fiction, cosmic horror, Norse mythology, Harlequin romance, gonzo journalism, nautical tales and any number of other things to give places good flavor.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2017, 06:06:51 am by Harry Baldman »
Logged

Lord_lemonpie

  • Bay Watcher
  • Looks like seizures are back on the menu, boys.
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2017, 06:05:26 am »

None of this critique is meant in any negative/mean way, it's just some constructive criticism. You did amazingly well for a first timer, way better than my first time at least.

- I see you've put down 20 countries, but only 13 of them have names. This implies to me that you've prioritized putting down borders over fleshing out the countries. This is almost certainly a bad idea; letting your countries grow naturally as you write their histories is a much more natural and fun process than trying to fill an arbitrary number of countries and writing backstories to justify their borders.
I can't stress the importance of this enough. I'm a decently experienced worldbuilder, and actually fleshing out the history of the countries you're working with is one of the key points to making an interesting world. I'm currently building a world in which I purely generate the history, and accomodate the world to it.

Spoiler: Current Progress (click to show/hide)
Whilst this is another extreme, you can certainly see major differences between our maps. Where the countries of your map seem to just be a series of blobs, mine tell an entire history. In the east, one can see colonies emerging, whilst in the west there's shattered remnants of a large (purple) empire, and the chaotic clusterfuck of borders reflecting its fall. There's unconquerable enclaves and paths of expansion, large unions of countries and uncivilized tribes, all with their own culture, language and writing systems, whereas your countries just seem to have appeared. You could make them more organic. For example, the northwestern blue country, which just seems to be a carved out blob, could just be reduced to a more heavily populated coastline. Kanar could hold small and developing colonies on the southwestern continent or parts of the main continent, like imperial Japan, whilst Suesko could be carved up into more countries. Uyarana too, could follow the river up north, using it for sustenance in the desert.

As I said, my map is an extreme example, complexity you shouldn't strive for yet. But the blobs you placed could certainly use some improvements. Also, I don't really like the names. They seem a bit uninspired/generic.

I absolutely adore your terrain/landmasses, and your rivers are pretty decent. They don't need fixing at all, and the quality/detail you put into the terrain is very impressive, compared to my pixely rainbow-colored map. The way you indicate differences in height and climate is impressive, and the placement of your biomes is geographically decently solid.

I haven't got the time to look through your lore yet, but I will this afternoon. If you have any questions you'd want to ask me feel free, I'd be glad to be of help!
Logged
Quote from: Objective
If anybody had epilepsy, lemonpie would have already killed them.
Once again, the wonders of
NATURAL SELECTION~
Sigtext

ShoesandHats

  • Bay Watcher
  • Shoes cancels Drink: Intensified by Penguin Man.
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2017, 08:40:48 pm »

-snip-

I was thinking that as well, but I don't really know what to do with a regional map. How big should it be, how much detail, etc.? Would you recommend using a hex system for travel or just winging it?

-snip-

Thanks for the feedback. Could you elaborate a bit on generating the history before drawing the borders? I get what you mean, but I don't have a great idea of how to translate a generalized world history into borders. I'd also like to hear suggestions for names and how to make them sound more interesting.
Logged

Harry Baldman

  • Bay Watcher
  • What do I care for your suffering?
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2017, 08:48:56 pm »

I was thinking that as well, but I don't really know what to do with a regional map. How big should it be, how much detail, etc.? Would you recommend using a hex system for travel or just winging it?

I checked in my copy of Other Dust (the closest thing to sound advice I've got on hand on making sandbox maps applicable to D&D) and it says that in a setting where long-distance travel isn't particularly easy you'll probably be good with a square area about 800 km (500 mi) to a side. I figure Kevin Crawford, sandbox expert after a fashion that he is, isn't talking out of his ass here and that also happens to be the approximate size of the map we use in our D&D 3.5 game (my high water mark for well-done D&D) that so far has lasted us for levels 1-11.

Another thing I've heard is that usually it's a good idea to start out the PCs far from civilization, and get closer to more highly populated, happening places the more the game goes on.
Logged

Urist McScoopbeard

  • Bay Watcher
  • Damnit Scoopz!
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2017, 10:11:54 pm »

@Lord_lemonpie,

what program are you using to make your maps? All PS or GIMP??? Or some external thing?
Logged
This conversation is getting disturbing fast, disturbingly erotic.

Lord_lemonpie

  • Bay Watcher
  • Looks like seizures are back on the menu, boys.
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2017, 09:13:08 am »

Thanks for the feedback. Could you elaborate a bit on generating the history before drawing the borders? I get what you mean, but I don't have a great idea of how to translate a generalized world history into borders. I'd also like to hear suggestions for names and how to make them sound more interesting.
Well, what I did was (in essence, actually doing it at this scale is a LOT of work) quite simple. Started with the first humans, made a list of possible role outcomes and rolled for what they'd do. They fractured in different tribes, expanded, warred, and eventually got civilized. I've got some of that progress in a Gif

What I'd suggest, however, is that you paste the map in some editing software with layers, like gimp. Then get a new layer on top of it, draw on your first humans, and just have them war each other, split, conquer etc. Using some kind of random chance will make it more organic/real.

As for names, get a certain "cultural vibe" for a country. I for example, have a culture in the SG I'm currently running whose language is heavy on a's, u's, dh's, b's and such. Get yourself a naming theme. Don't fear longer names, all those 2-syllable names get boring, and don't fear real-world cultures either. To make things interesting, you can also add titles to the names, such as: Kingdom of, Grand City of, March of, Archduchy of, Bishopric of, United X of etc.

Kanar, for example, as an archipelago, could have pacific naming schemes, resulting in something like Ka'anar or Ka'nar. (Don't overdose on apostrophes btw, can look chaotic unless it's a single culture that abuses them)

Suesko and Tarq'Haram just sound weird to me, as if they were random syllables jumbled together. Tarq'Haram seems Arabic-esque to me, so what about something like Al-Haaram, Al-Tarq, Tarqaam, Taharam, Tarahan or something. Suex, Suexia, Sueth, and Suath also sound better, but they give me an Egyptian-esque vibe. Not sure where you want to go with that, but get inspired by a real world country, or make up your entire language.

Galta and Eralta both end in -alta, but are situated far from each other, so this seems odd. If I were to guess, Galta is mediterranean-esque whilst Eralta is a fertile river kingdom (might be completely mistaken though). Galta itself isn't that bad (could make it a variant though, Galtea, Gallea, Galtia, Gaccia), though I'm not a fan of Eralta. When I think of a river kingdom, I think of its fertile lands, whilst Eralta doesn't give me any kind of association at all. The river seems to be a defining feature of the country, so the country could be named after it. Let's say the river is the "Essal" (Eral doesn't sound river-y to me). Essalland, the Essallands, Essaya, Esseya, Essland etc. could all be names.

These are just suggestions examples though, you should get the feel yourself.

@Lord_lemonpie,

what program are you using to make your maps? All PS or GIMP??? Or some external thing?
Nothing but gimp and my trusty computer mouse.
Logged
Quote from: Objective
If anybody had epilepsy, lemonpie would have already killed them.
Once again, the wonders of
NATURAL SELECTION~
Sigtext

ShoesandHats

  • Bay Watcher
  • Shoes cancels Drink: Intensified by Penguin Man.
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2017, 10:33:52 pm »

Zooming in a little bit, what would you guys recommend in terms of encounters for a group of four newbies? How long should the first dungeon be, and how many enemies should they be up against? If a peaceful resolution to the encounter is possible, how do you make it challenging and interesting? This is more DnD specific rather than just general worldbuilding, but it's important stuff, I think.
Logged

Harry Baldman

  • Bay Watcher
  • What do I care for your suffering?
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2017, 04:10:04 am »

Don't plan a peaceful resolution ahead of time because then it's likely to either be A) horribly missed or B) easily telegraphed. The great thing about peaceful resolutions in tabletop is that players can spring them on you with a little inventiveness and good rolls. All that really matters is that a peaceful resolution be possible to begin with, which is to say that the intended adversaries have a reason to be there beyond being killed gloriously by adventurers. The rest should be left to come about naturally - the challenge comes from surprising you, the DM, with something that seems perfectly reasonable and amenable to both sides, or a PC fortuitously knowing Orcish or Goblin or whatever other form of unexpectedly useful language.

As for how long it should be, you can get from one (if you're hunting someone, for instance) to three (if you're in a dungeon and fighting room to room with little in between) combat encounters into a session. You might want to start small and not with a dungeon at all, instead build it around some kind of wilderness encounter pre-dungeon. As for what kind of combat encounter, you probably should get something that the PCs would reasonably get the drop on and not vice versa (not very perceptive or maybe just occupied with something else entirely), since at level 1 and indeed several levels beyond that a surprise round can basically decide everything.

Oh, and if you're playing 5E you could use the XP guideline to make a challenging encounter for their level (so the PCs feel good for having beaten it) but make sure to give them an advantage to tip the odds in their favor (conventionally that's surprise, but it could also be terrain that's favorable for the PCs or something else that should help them out).
« Last Edit: March 25, 2017, 04:12:42 am by Harry Baldman »
Logged

Jimmy

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2017, 06:19:42 am »

I've already addressed your question over in the D&D thread, but here's a little extra from my experience to hopefully help you flesh out your world.

I'll share my own home game map with you. I scaled this map to have the continent be roughly the land size of Russia.
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
Yes, it's 'hand' drawn with computer mouse and Photoshop. Quality isn't great, artistic skill is next to nil, but it gives players an idea of the shape of the world and interesting places to visit in it. The towns listed on the world map are size Small Town or larger per the Pathfinder rules, leaving me artistic license to insert any additional small villages or hamlets wherever I damn well please.

Note there's a scale on the map. This is immensely important to let both you and the players know how far you can travel.

Now backstory dump.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

Since that's probably tl;dr length, I'll summarise by pointing out broad strokes. First, I give players the map to allow them to pick a home city. Then I give them a broad description of each of the three continental powers, essentially one medieval European high fantasy society, one Arabian Nights society, and one east Asiatic society. There's built in conflict within the campaign setting involving a 30 year war for power, and gives an excuse for a band of murderhobos to go murdering and hoboing across the countryside. Finally, I give a description of what each of the main playable races does in this campaign setting, to flavour the backstory options for players in order to give them some idea of what to expect their race would find in their homeland.
Logged

Tiruin

  • Bay Watcher
  • Life is too short for worries
    • View Profile
Re: I'm new to DnD and I'd like some help with worldbuilding
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2017, 07:55:45 am »

PTW! Would love to learn from others how to GM better <_<
Especially since we can't/don't have D&D in the locality here. ._.
Logged
Even though accounts vary, everyone has a legendary story to tell.

The Writer's Apprenticeship - A thread dedicated to literary art!

Tales of Shattered Dreams - My RTD, a continuous work in progress.