View Full Version : Campaigns / Adventures Building a Meta-World

06-24-2009, 01:28 AM
I'm looking for some assistance and recommendations from both players and GMs on this topic.

I've been building a world these past few months for all of my future campaigns to take place in. At the moment, I'm trying to decide when to begin the "calender year," so to speak. I've already got a fleshed out history dating from The Creation (birth of the Multiverse) up to "modern day" in Forgotten Realms time (which is like 1374 DR). My "turning point" in going from pre-DR to DR is after the Time of Troubles (also from the Forgotten Realms setting), which ends with the destruction of the last great empire on the Material Plane.

My ideal hope is that the PCs will affect how the world turns out and have their actions be reflected in future campaigns set in the same meta-world. For now, this is what the world looks like in the "present":


The red and white dots are meant to mark present-day large towns/cities, with the orange dots representing current country borders.

My questions are:

1. Does the map make sense in terms of what's a desert, plains, forest, swamp, etc.

2. At first glance, is there anything that stands out to you as an anomaly, be it too many cities, the landscape, etc.

3. If you had your choice of picking where you wanted your campaign to begin (in terms of which continent), when would you start off at, and why?

For the moment, my initial campaign idea is that the PCs are adventuring, following plot threads (starting with them getting hired by a kingdom to help investigate the theft of an old tome) that eventually lead them to the BBEG who is trying to become a diety by killing other gods and absorbing their powers thanks to multiple spells, alchemical regants, artifacts and other such goodies.

If you need any more information (a more detailed timeline, names of continents, etc) let me know.

06-24-2009, 02:28 AM
1-The only question I would have regarding the map is that it shows a desert on one of the northern continents, but not the other. Depending on where your equator is, I would think there might be another desert. But then again, this is fantasy, so reality doesn't need to come into play at all.

2-Nothing really stands out at unusual to me. Not knowing the scale, your bigger sities seem to be spread out at a good distance from one another in most cases, which seems very logical to me. If I saw this map as an adventurer, I would wonder if there wasn't some "lost" or hidden city on the northern most islands in the southern half of the map. Who knows, maybe you've already got something planned out for that?

3-I personally like to start out small and work towards bigger things, so to me the southwestern continent would be where I would want to start, both as a player and a DM. Especially regarding the DM duties, smaller is sometimes better at the start so there's less work for you. My alternative would be the small set of islands between the southern continents (this is actually similar how where my next campaign will start...a small island).

06-24-2009, 04:27 AM
The red and white dots are meant to mark present-day large towns/cities, with the orange dots representing current country borders.

My questions are:

1. Does the map make sense in terms of what's a desert, plains, forest, swamp, etc.

2. At first glance, is there anything that stands out to you as an anomaly, be it too many cities, the landscape, etc.

3. If you had your choice of picking where you wanted your campaign to begin (in terms of which continent), when would you start off at, and why?
It sounds like you wanted a critique of your map on its own merits. Therefore, while many of the questions I ask must have firm answers in your world overview, I'm basing the questions solely from my examination of your map and nothing else. Here are my responses:

1. This is what I've got from your map so far:
Blue - ocean
Light Blue - rivers
Tan - desert
Brown - mountains
Green - plains? forest? I'm guessing plains.

Then the black and purple could be swamps, forests, jungles, lakes, or something else, but their placement isn't telling me much except that they seem to be mutually exclusively: no purple terrain shares any border with black terrain.

I also have my own questions about overall shape and size. Is the world spherical, flat, or something else? Does it have an overall surface area similar to Earth, larger, or smaller? Is this map part of your world, or is it your world in its entirety?

What is the temperature like and which parts of the map are warmer or cooler than the rest, if any? I don't see anything that looks like ice or tundra on the map.

In terms of directions for our use in referring to your map, what should we do? For now, I'm just going to assume that there's a north, and it's towards the top of your map.

2. Since you can do whatever you want in a high fantasy setting, when you ask about anomalies, I imagine you're asking how this differs from my, albeit layman's, understanding of geography. This is what I've got so far:

A) On Earth, there are lots and lots of islands. To take one of the most extreme examples, look at what's between Asia and Australia. Did you only draw the biggest islands, or is this what there is?

B) Rivers usually flow from high elevation to low elevation. I would expect to see many or most of your rivers start in your mountains and flow towards the ocean. Assuming your rivers do in fact flow towards the ocean, most of them seem to be starting in the middle of the green terrain.

C) Your rivers all start as tributaries that flow together before reaching the ocean. There appear to be no deltas in your world.

D) There are two rivers that appear to flow from one coastline to another coastline. On a low fantasy world, that would probably mean the continent itself was divided in two by a narrow oceanic strait, or that what looks like one river is in fact two rivers flowing out of the same source, in opposite directions. If the latter, it's not clear where the source would be for either of these twin rivers.

E) Some rivers seem to flow out of cities, which is unusual, unless the river is actually flowing from the ocean into the city, and then we're certainly in the realm of anomaly.

F) The river that goes through the desert is odd, though the Nile comes to mind. Most rivers tend to have some kind of fertility around their borders if the terrain is at all conducive to it. Even the Nile looks like a ribbon of green, along much of its length.

G) Either one of your two deserts could be explained by being in the rain shadow of the mountain ranges. However, if that were the case, I would expect your small desert to extend right up to the edge of the mountainous border with the large desert. It's that green patch which separates the two deserts that's an anomaly in my mind.

H) I don't see anything in the way of inland lakes or seas. Does your world lack such features, or are there only tiny lakes that are too small to depict?

I) If the dots represent all settlements as small as a "large town" then the world must be one or more of very small, very uncivilized, very underpopulated...or possibly brimming with small villages for some reason?
Of course, maybe only humans build cities, and in most fantasy worlds, humans have to share the land with all sorts of others. Still, these settlements would either be very self-sufficient (and isolated), or rely on fantasy-type methods of communication and transportation. This is not a world where someone can talk casually of what's stylish "in the next town over." Once again, perhaps the landscape is littered with villages but that makes me wonder what's keeping people from urbanizing more. Just looking at the map, I still get the feel of a very lonely, or at least, unsettled, world.
It's an anomaly to me, but also something that makes me feel excited. Images of city-states where each city has its own laws, language, government, and even gods, springs to mind. That definitely gets my heart pounding faster than a bunch of identical towns separated by miles of trackless wilderness but wholly connected through some kind of magical Internet/UPS.

J) Generally, I expect cities to hug coastlines, rivers, or be along obvious trade routes. I also expect a lot more cities in grasslands than anywhere else. Many of your cities are along rivers. However, the coastline seems noticeably vacant. Is it because of sea monsters perhaps? A large number seem to be existing in mountain ranges. A city in a swamp is unhealthy and hungry. A city in a forest tends to destroy the forest. Cities in mountains makes me wonder what sort of magic is employed to keep everyone fed. All of these questions can have answers, like the fantasy-standard elfin forest cities and dwarfish mountain cities, but they're anomalies until they're answered. Maybe the cities are at defensible locales? However, who's using all the fertile space, and why build a city as opposed to just spreading out the population across the land? What is a defensible-but-remote city actually protecting?

K) Once again, just from looking at your map, I wonder how any nation enforces its borders with so few communities. I would expect circles around each city, with most of the rest of the world being simply uncontrolled. Or perhaps the borders represent the claims of the rulers, and the reality is different?

L) The borders themselves don't seem to obey natural boundaries. Unless the borders were arbitrarily settled by treaty (and the nations have access to really skilled/magical cartography) the only other reasons I can think of for where they are is because either "the gods decreed it" or the various nations are at war, and these borders roughly represent the fronts of the various armies. I expect borders to follow rivers and mountain ranges, or be projections of power from cities.
Taking the southeastern continent as an example, the border of the southeastern nation is the one that makes sense to me. The northern portion of the border between the northeastern and central nation makes me wonder why the central nation can control that tiny corridor of green terrain north of the point where the river meets the mountain range. If I was the northeastern nation, that's where my troops would cut them off, whether in peacetime or war. If that didn't work, they would hold them off where that black terrain starts, but there's no way that border would reach the coast. Finally, unless that one southernmost city in the central nation is literally under siege, it should be able to push the border between it and the southern nation south to the edge of the large river. If it is under siege, why is that tiny strip of green terrain that extends all the way east and west of the city still under its control? I'd expect the border to be right in the foothills of the mountains.

3) It's hard for me to point at a largely unknown world map and say, "Here's where I want to start." It's the small scale that draws me in. I suppose I'd pick the city on that island with the purple terrain that's ringed by mountains. First of all, it would let me know what the purple terrain was, and secondly, it seems like a city in such a place would develop in a rather interesting manner, presenting kind of a neat, exotic locale to kick things off with.

06-24-2009, 09:20 PM
RoryN - The main reason for so few deserts is that the world is actually a very temperate place world-wide; summertime varies, but never goes below the mid 60's (on a Fahrenheit scale). And in the wintertime there are very few spots that dip below 0 that are near sea-level. Up in the mountains the temperature gets colder, but there is no "equator" because the gods crafted the world as a place where life has a decent chance to survive without a whole lot of "natural hazard zones."

Umiushi - I'll answer your question in parts:

Light green is for plains, dark green for forests. Purple is meant to represent a swamp/bog/deadlands. And yes, north is the top half of the map, south for bottom half, east is the right side, west is the left side.

There are more islands, but the scale is too small to be noticable on the map. Same goes for lakes; they exist, just not on the "worldview" size of the map.

The rivers all appear to flow from various directions because they are the remnants of the last empire. They had near infinite magical, architectural and crafting talents at their disposal, and actually subverted, altered, or dug new rivers to help with irrigation of crops and clean water for the cities to use.

There aren't a whole lot of coastal cities because one of the most common occurances on this world are tsunamis, so they have moved far enough away from the coast so that a tsunami won't destroy everything. The cause for so many tsunamis is two-fold:

1. Due to the destruction of the last great empire and how it was destroyed, it created a techtonic plate shift, and the fault lines often shake, causing earthquakes all over the world.

2. The dieties attempted to fix the techtonic plate issue, but could only change where the earthquakes took place. So, after some arguments and deals being brokered, they have the majority of the earthquakes take place out at sea. They communicated this fact to their worshippers, who followed their gods' advice and moved away from the coast.

The river on the northwestern continent flows from the mountain out to sea, and the reason for no green land being marked along it is due to the scale of the world. For example, the southwestern continent would take over a month of travel to go from the northernmost city down to the city in the middle on foot, and over two weeks by boat.

The world is still trying to recover from the last empire's fall with other governments trying vying for more power and eventual world dominance. So far, three major wars have occured since the Time of Troubles, the last having ended in 1217 DR. The borders were marked there by treaties signed by all of the countries at the time and the majority of people are content to keep the world as-is and to try to return to a better lifestyle. There are still some hurt feelings amongst some of the other races (mainly the more "monstrous" races) and tensions on some of the eastern continents have been rising slowly as some governemnts try to re-build and increase the size of their armies. And some of the land is just uncontrolled areas where only those with brave dreams adventure into.

There are dozens of small villages and farming areas on the continents, they just aren't marked. When I finish with building the continents on a continent-by-continent scale, it will show towns and the cities, but not all of the farming villages.

The governments keep various forts and keeps - most leftovers from the last empire - to help with patrols in the areas to help protect the smaller villages and farming communities.

In general, one government rules each continent, though the cities and towns can have their own system of rule. For example, the northeastern continent is ruled by a Republican government, but most of the cities are ruled by a king or queen.

As for where you would like to start off at, technically no one in the world (save for the person on that island) knows it exists. The gods know its there but aren't willing to do anything about it. Not because of a lack of desire, but because, to put it one way, the cost needed to make the plan succeed is a price that even they do not want to pay.

06-24-2009, 10:08 PM
Fair enough. Then I'll go with the islands where the three cities are. Now that I know more about the world, I think there must be some underlying secrets to a heavily urbanized area in the middle of a tsunami zone.

06-24-2009, 11:34 PM
Fair enough. Then I'll go with the islands where the three cities are. Now that I know more about the world, I think there must be some underlying secrets to a heavily urbanized area in the middle of a tsunami zone.

Actually, those three islands are the dieties "Hall of Champions." Every few decades, the dieties gather up their favorite/most powerful worshipers and have them spar. This is two-fold:

1. They keep themselves occupied and entertained, which their pantheon and deceased followers also enjoy and - in some cases - bet upon the fights.

2. Those they deem worthy enough after the sparing fights are granted immortality. In return, they agree to help said dieties in certain situations when the dieties cannot directly interfere with mortal issues. This includes that swamp island in-between the two eastern continents: they are slowly building up an army of high level NPCs and retired PCs to eliminate the threat on the island.

The islands are protected by the dieties from the tsunamis, mainly through the use of Perminant Force Walls surrounding the islands that stretch several miles up and over, like a force field. Few mortal people know the island exists (Alter Reality basically has it be a fold in space, so if you attempt to sail to the islands you just wind up on the other side of the islands), the majority of them having been summonded their by their diety.

The backstory behind the swamp-mountain island is that, prior to the Time of Troubles, the two eastern continents were actually connected (in the shape of an 'H') and that city was the captial of the last empire. When the disaster occured, the person who caused it became... Something. The gods don't know what, but what they do know (after nearly a thousand years of trying to find out) is something that is like the anti-thesis of existance. Imagine the strength of a Titan combined with the intellect of an Illithid, blend it together with the abilities and lifetime of a Demilich, the regenerative abilities of a Terrasque and throw in some Draconic blood and stats for good measure and THAT is what the dieties are dealing with. And the person was already a Paragon of his race before the disaster.

And did I mention that, even after all of those templates and stats, he's still got over 60 class levels?

Pun-Pun doesn't exist in my world. Not because you can't become one, but because THIS guy appears before Pun-Pun is fully realized, zombifies him and makes him his thrall.

The vast majority of the dieties (good and evil, lawful and chaotic) hate this asshole for one reason or another. Mystra hates him because she refuses him to cast arcane spells on the Weave, yet he still can do so. Kelemvor hates him because he's got over a million undead on the island active at all times (the person calls them being on a "rotating guard" shift), with the ability to convert almost 95% of the world's population into nothingness or undead thralls. Even Ao, in all of his neutrality, has basically said, "If someone kills this guy, mortal or not, you're getting 10 Divine Ranks."

Man, out of everything on the map, you pick the two areas that basically require you to be high-level to reach. When the map is going to be shown to the PCs those two are going to be left out, along with a few other cities. The cities are to be taken out because no one knows they exist due to the citizens wanting to remain hidden from the world around them.