The Devil is in the Details
I’ve often been chided for building worlds for RPGs that have way too much background. However, one of the things I like best about creating the lands and peoples of the worlds I create is knowing that they function well enough, under a little bit of scrutiny, to make sense. When I want my players to believe that their characters are in the middle of a world with Elves, Dragons, Dwarves and Magic Weapons, I have to have a point of reference that makes sense so they don’t have to focus on those.
Its very analogous to a painting theory I stick to: Models look better then some part of the model reflects what you expect. Often times that means that if skin is a strange color, that weapons and Leather change significantly. If Weapons and clothing change color, I tend to keep the skin rather plain, ect.
This applies to the RPG world because the characters and players need to be able to have a frame of reference. I double-down on this type of playstyle due to my favoring of Low-Magic gritty campaigns, but it still holds true.
How I’m Working Through it
Here is MY Island, Tysis. Its one of 19 on the World, of which I have detailed about 3.
This is, with few changes, the Island I wrote up on the fly almost 20 years ago, when I was looking to get a campaign running, because all we had until then were random stories. Its undergone some significant changes politically, but almost nothing physically. There are Mountain Ranges to the South-East (Drimm) and to the North-East (Iron Arm) There are three Major Rivers (from N/W to S/E the Killbar, the Black and the Sorinim) Leading from three large Lakes (again, the Eltos, the Bluemist, and the Tashal). These were all, more or less, plopped into place without thinking. I also knew that I wanted the arctic circle to run straight through the Iron Arm Mountains, making it a generally cold area to live in. Finally, I wanted it to be fairly large, roughly the size of Australia.
All these concepts lead me into a baffling problem, however: What is the climate of this here Island! Its one thing to say that the island is a cold land with bitter winters and short, brutal summers, but then who’d live there! how do you adventure in a land out to kill you with cold? Honestly, I didn’t have the foggiest clue.
Start at the Beginning
First, I had to figure out how large my island actually was, so I went and referenced some maps of Australia to get a good picture of how large it is. Turns out, its nearly 3000 miles across, which is pretty massive. Since I stood it on its head, I wanted to make sure that I reached around that size. doing the math, the Island ended up being around 2460 mi long and 1800mi across. Putting the arctic circle approximately where I wanted gave me the latitude I needed to gauge the scope of my climate. The Tip-top portion is around 73° and the lowest of the low portions is right around 42°. This is a much broader range of temperatures than I am comfortable with, so I had to find a reason to make it a little chillier in some places, so I looked into geography, climate and Biom information, and made a few estimated guesses.
- Using Current maps, it looked like there would be a warm water current coming up the Eastern side from the equator, and a cold water current coming down the north-west side, but a warmer water current coming up the from the south-east. This makes the most sense in keeping the area abnormally cool, as the mountains border the ocean on the Eastern side, and that would prevent any real benefit to the inner portion of the Island from the warmer current. It would also create a stormy, hellish coast.
- The warm water coming up the South West would get trapped into and leach out in the Kilbaran Gulf. This will make Kilbar and the southern swamp a little warmer, and make sense from that standpoint of Roman Civilization and a Black Dragons massive Swamp.
- The large, generally flat area of the Heartland may need to change. With nothing stopping the warm waters from getting inland I might need a way to make the central area cold and bitter.
Now, I took that information and made a fairly solid map of the area with some guesses as to how I wanted the area to feel. The Mountains to the East still exist, but they aren’t really marked here.
I now Have an Idea of what types of areas I wanted. The southern area is going to be much like the Pacific northwest. It traps rain and cold and drives it up the continent, creating a cold Temperate rain forest of great trees and pleasant living. This is going to be the best part of the island.
The Western Portion of the island is going to be warmer than the rest of the Island, but I need to get some mountains in there to work that, climatically. It’ll have a maritime Temperate region to the north, much like the Northeast United States, and a bit of a Mediterranean climate around the bay, warm and pleasant but with bitter winters. In the center of the Island is the Humid Continental area, reminiscent of Russia, Nebraska, the Dakotas and northern Europe. Its a strongly cold area that allows for warm summers and adequate growing seasons to feed the many people who live here.
This lead me to start looking for countries and states in those regions I had singled out as within my area to figure out what type of wildlife and flora they would be likely to harbor. I’ve started looking into what types of harvest crops and economic valuables they are likely to have, as well as what type of animals. Of course, with a twist to the fantastic.
Honestly, this is the hardest part of any of the world-buildings I have done. Making sure your climate, animals and weather match whats expected makes a ton of difference when your character are asked to believe in elves, witches and blood mages! I find all this minutia to be invaluable to making sure that a player becomes invested in his world.
Now, to go look up the Wildlife and Trade exports of Liaoning, China. Its in the right spot!