As often as I play D&D – Once a week or so, you’d think I would have more to say on the topic. Strangely, it is a difficult topic for me to write about not only specifically because I don’t want to give any portion of the story away as the DM, but also because it seems to be a fairly significant amount of winging it that goes on on a week to week basis.
However, I do want to start making it a bit of a regular thing for me to put something out there about what I think about, how I go about DMing and playing characters, fun characters I’ve built, and other things that I am working on with my D&D world, even if its just a little peek into how my brain works while DMing.
Or, as it is this week, in preparation for DMing, and all the small, fun things I think about when going about creating, or retconing, worlds.
I may have said this before, but I had a strange time in college. I originally went in for Chemistry, but disliking the quantity of math, quickly – maybe to quickly – gave up on it. At that point, I had to choose another major; another field of study which I could commit myself and hopefully be interested in. My brain and priorities being as they are, I immediately thought about how I could go about making a college degree about what I needed to know as a DM. History was the obvious choice. From there, too, all the optional classes where classes I took based on creating worlds, building realistic continents and civilizations, and in general making sure that the settings I created felt as natural and real as possible.
Medieval English Literature
I was nothing if not dogged in my pursuit.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I feel my greatest creation came out during that time. 90 pages, handwritten, in a spiral bound notebook that I have to this day. A challenging and engaging setting, wholly populated by humans of varying civilizations. I’ve done some work on it since then, but it has languished due to its had written nature. More and more I have come to rely on typed and digital copies of the information in order to correctly run a game. One day, though, I will get them all typed up and try running a game there again.
This single Island, which had no specific name, was created with all the knowledge I could muster in order to make the world as real as possible. I looked into ocean currents, wind patterns, plate tectonics, mountain ranges and their affect on vegetation, rivers, ports… Everything. I tried to give the land a variety of land formations and masses – Islands, Isthmus, peninsula, coves, harbors, mountains, watersheds. I built the past civilizations and how they rose and fell, creating history that was little more than a backdrop for certain small portions of information. I even, to cap it all off, have a map of the apex predators and how they share the world and where they run into conflict. Maps like these were, and are, very important to me.
Now, all that being said, there is always something you miss.
Recently, for me, this has become especially apparent in the setting I am running now. A cold, miserable setting created long ago. Originally a fairly typical and boring campaign setting, I have destroyed and reworked it, through the course of campaigns and adventures, into something I very much enjoy. Civilization is rare, people are surrounded by danger and fear, and its a perfect world for the would be adventurer, now. I know that the geography is strongly off – Its a nice and even coastline that has few strange or prominent features, but I am getting to the point of retconing that. Mountains and even hills are few and far between, creating a strange, open landscape that seems uninteresting to traverse.
Most of all, though, it has no economy. This goes beyond even the standard definition of what each country trades in and is deficient in.
I gave none of the world natural resources.
And that is something that only struck me days ago. DAYS. after having DM’d for 20 years here.
I don’t know where gold, iron, silver and steel come from. I don’t, on a very basic level, understand where they get trees for paper, what wood is used in construction, where they get the clay for brick and pottery, and even so much as to where they get cattle, salt, slaves, tin, and spices. Grain, Beer and Wine. I don’t even know how they feed themselves through the long winters I’ve provided them with.
This matters because it really defines the relationships each country and land has with its neighbors. Why would the Killbarans need to encroach on the Levishan Elves forests if they have their own, and they are just as good? Maybe, they have the trees in that area that are the best for paper fabrication, and the Mages Colleges need more paper than Killbar can create, having stripped it of all proper paper trees long ago. Why did the Dwarves settle in the Mountains of Drimm long ago, and why did the giants and dragons ally to roust them. It is likely the deposits of gold deep in the mountains which caused the dwarves to be massively wealthy and the Giants and Dragons to covet their immense wealth. Why do the Orcs, long considered barbarian outsiders and vile creatures, have strong weapons and armor, much stronger than would normally be suggested by their lot in life. Clearly is the strong Iron deposits south of the Dragonfang Mountains.
With the discovery of Inkarnate (thanks, Lee!) I can now go about detailing and putting these stupid little touches into my world, and creating a solid footing for which to create long and lasting strife in the region of Tysis where it is needed most. Between river boundaries, ore and mineral deposits, and perfect pastureland, I will have every thing that I need to justify certain cities and locations going to war, and continuing to go to war as far as I can see, while also producing lairs and motivations for villains beyond the standard villain in a castle.
All of these stupid little details that I put into the setting really, in the end, guide me to make good decisions on the fly when it comes to the play experience. I know what and how strongly any one thing affects another. From Hungry predators to the bulk of the trade goods in an overturned caravan, it is all increasingly essential as I get deeper and deeper into my world.
What do you think I should be minutely planning about and scraping every piece of information that I can for? What are you’re go to trivial details that really help you sort out your settings, or that you like to have detailed in your setting because you like running with it? Let me know!