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World Building

World Building

  • Introduction to building of Nyonia - Celestial Jewels

    Background

    After deciding that I wanted to build a fantasy setting (see Why did I create my own fantasy setting?) I knew I needed a plan.  By nature I am a person who creates plans and who is detail oriented.  By having a plan and working the plan I was pretty sure I could get enough done so I could then create a campaign for my setting.

    Process

    The very first thing I did was imagine the kind of setting I wanted.  To help me get my creative juices flowing I took time to look at the Google+ group called World Building.  This community is not specifically about creating RPG worlds, rather it is for game designers, setting designers and authors.  By reading a lot of blogs and posts I started to develop some ideas about what I would want.  I think I spent at least three to six months just thinking about what I wanted.

    In that time I came up with some parameters around my new fantasy setting.

    • I wanted a large world.  I wanted a world that it took a long time to cross from one point to another.  One of the advantages with a large world is there are always plenty of places to explore.
    • I wanted a world that was wetter and warmer than Earth. 
    • I wanted a world where common people used bronze for weapons, someone with more money would use iron weapons and a very few would use steel.  Part of this is because metal would be rare on this world and with all rain there would be a lot of corrosion and rust.
    • I wanted a world with a variety of races.  Some of the races could be used as character races and some could not.
    • I wanted all the player races to be from somewhere other than Nyonia.
    • I wanted a pantheon that was real (not just imaginary), interacted with Nyonia and the inhabitants.  I wanted people in the world to know that Nyonia gods were real.
    • I wanted magic to be unique and varied. 

    Geography

    I decided to start with the geography of Nyonia.  In recent years with discovery of so many exoplanets we now have more data about what kinds of planets are possible.  With the information I had on reasonable planetary sizes which might support life, I turned to a fractal world generator.  Fractals are repeating pattern often found in nature and can be replicated using mathematical formulas and random number generators.  Here is a list of four fractal world generators you might use.  I have used TerraJ and Fractal Mapper 8.  Both work well for an initial map of a world.

    • Map to Globe - Online globe creator based on a PNG file.  It can also generate a basic fractal terrain map.
    • TerraJ- An excellent open source fractal world generator.
    • Fractal Terrains 3 - A commercial fractal world generator
    • Fractal Mapper 8 - A commercial fractal world generator

    The output from the TerraJ tool is a graphics file.  I then used a commercial software mapping tool called Hexographer to create a more detailed world map.  Hexographer has a feature which allows you to load a graphics file of a map and then Hexographer will interpret the underlying image and 'guess' what kind of terrain should be used for each location on the map.  This effort provided me with enough information to inspire some more creative thinking about the rest of the setting.

    After I finished with a world geography I ended up working on four things at the same time, races, a pantheon, a time line (world history) and magic.

    Races and Creation Myths

    I wanted some unique races and unique names for well known fantasy races in my world.  The first thing I decided was there were no mixed races (half-orc or half-elf).  Each race had its own unique genetic makeup and any attempts at mixed race reproduction would fail.  The second thing I decided was I wouldn't have elves or anything like elves in my setting.  The third thing I decided was that there would be a group of races known as the Elder Races and second group known as the Younger Races.  Players would be allowed to play any member of the Younger Races but they could not play one of the Elder Races

    The creation myths for the Elder Races revolve around being created by the gods in the pantheon as part of a larger divine conflict.  The creation myths for the Younger Races are divided into two groups, the two races which were created (Ainuand Wangai) or those who came from some other place and/or time (Koori, Easterlingsand Samara).

    I freely admit I stole, borrowed and twisted many parts of the races based on books and myths that I have read about. 

    World History (Time line)

    Creating a world history was very difficult.  At first everything I came up with just looked like I had 'warmed over' Earth history or some other fantasy settings history.  Fortunately I was able to located a couple of tools to start the creative juices flowing.  http://tripleacegame...ief_History.pdf and http://www.fantasist.../timeline.shtml were useful for me to help with being creative about the time lines.  The resulting time line can be found here.  And if you click on one of the ages you get more details but not a lot of details.

    Magic

    One thing I have found very annoying in most RPG settings is that every mage ends up looking like every other mage.  They all have fireballs, lightning bolts, summon servants, magic shields, etc.  I decided to solve that problem by having each race and/or culture  have their own kind of magic.  Once someone learned one kind of magic they could not learn any magic from another race or culture.  The reasons why magic work this way within the setting is unknown to those who live there.  The players just know that it isn't possible. 

    Some of the events in the world history hint at magical catastrophes which have almost always occurred because a mage tried to combine two kinds of magic.

    I also decided that magic can be both learned or is an innate talent. 

    The analogy I use is based on my experience learning how to play a guitar after I was 30 years old.  I can learn how to play songs, follow along at a jam and maybe even solo at a straight up blues jam but I will never be a talented guitar player.  Talented guitar players tend to learn when they are very young and have a strong desire to really know their instrument and explore their talent. Talented guitar players tend to go farther in their playing and often have a wide set of playing skills and styles they can draw upon.

    Magic in Nyonia works the same way.  Anyone can learn a few spells from their race or culture and they might be very good with those spells but they will be limited when compared to someone who has a talent for magic.  Also if they fail in casting the spell, bad things tend to happen. 

    On the other hand, a person with a talent for magic will have a stronger ability and a much wider set of spells, within their race/culture and they rarely fail when casting a spell and even more rarely do the effects of a failed casting have any side effect (except for the loss of time and possibly materials).

    Upcoming articles

    Next time I will post on how I developed technology, nations, and governments for the races and cultures on Nyonia.

  • Nyonia - Celestial Jewels - Cultures, Governments and Technology

    In my previous article, (Introduction to building of Nyonia - Celestial Jewels), I wrote about how I developed the geography, races, creations myths, world history and magic for the Nyonia.  In this article I will write about the process I used to create the nations, governments, cultures and technology for each of the races.

    Process

    One of the decisions I made was to focus on the playable races and cultures and deal with the Elder Races at a later time.  There are sixteen unique races and cultures on Nyonia.  Using the history I had already developed I started detailing each culture.  I decided to look historic cultures, governments and technologies.

    I found The Kingdom Builder tools, made by Chaotic Shiny Productions, which can be used to generate the following kinds of information nation names, types of government, city names, flag descriptions, general descriptions, regions, cities, laws, events, notable individuals, fashions, armies, laws, and place names. With the Kingdom Builder tools I was able to generate hundreds of options and use them as part of a brainstorming exercise.

    Once I had a number of good options to pick from I started mapping out the races and cultures.

    Looking at the past

    Since Nyonia is large world and the people who came to this world mostly came from a place like earth I decided to use historic examples to build up each culture.  

    Non-Human Races

    I started with the three non-human races.  The Ainu are a small, sturdy, and stoic people.  The Ainu are known for their mining, metal work, steel, gems and fermented mushroom tea.  The Ainu have a king/prime minister.  Their economic system is mercantile.

    The Koori are a bi-pedal lion like people.  Since the Koori are like lions their government is patriarchal and a feudal monarchy where the patriarch is selected based on merit.  Their economic system is based on socialism within each pride and tribe.  The Koori have no coinage of their own.

    The Wangai are a small and strudy people.  They enjoy family, friends and an easy life. They are known as merchants and farmers.  In fact their home country is the 'bread basket' for the world.  They have a democratic republic form of government with a prime minister and great council to make decisions at a national level.

    Humans

    Humans are in fact came from earth.  How or why isn't really important.  All humans can trace their ancestry back to either the arrival of the Easterlings or the Samara on Nyonia.  As I built the time line for Nyonia, I ended up creating the following culture map to help trace the way each of the cultures evolved.

    This map allowed me to build each of the cultures based on an evolution and outgrowth from where they came from.  Each nation/culture ended up being unique and interconnected by shared histories.  The types of governments vary from feudal monarchies, plutocratic city states, oligarchies, a dictatorship, monarch, democratic republics, meritocracy, ruled judges, confederation and a republic of nobles and merchants.  Each nation is known for different kinds of materials and merchandise.

    Economics is less varied between each nation.  The economies include mercantile, feudal, capitalism, dirigism, and bartering.  

    Technology

    I broke up technology into three main categories weapons/armor, transportation and power.  Those nations that are more advanced in certain technologies would jealously guard their advantages.  A country might have a low transportation tech level but a high weapons/armor level because the need to travel would be low in that country.  Another country might have a very high transportation tech level and a minimal tech level for weapons/armor.

     

    Tech Level Weapons and Armor Transportation Power
    0 Wood and Stone Weapons
    Cloth or Wood Armor
    Spears & Spear thrower
    Skis
    Dog sleds
    Dugout Canoes
    Human Muscle Power
    Dogs
    1 Bronze weapons and armor
    Simple Bows & arrows
    Bare horseback
    The Wheel / Chariots
    Carts
    Ship Building
    Sails
    Celestial navigation
    Short ocean going trips (3 to 5 days)
    Donkeys
    Oxen
    Ponies
    2 Iron weapons and armor (mail)
    Siege engines
    Crossbows (simple)
    Long bows
    Saddle
    Wagons
    Roads
    Triremes
    Celestial navigation using Sun-stone
    Simple tool to identify latitude
    Horses
    Water wheels
    3 Steel weapons and plate armor
    Compound bows
    Complex crossbows
    Stirrups
    Oceangoing sailing ships (long ships, round-ships, etc)
    Mariner's astrolabe
    Heavy Horses
    Horse-collars
    Windmills (simple)
    4 Weapons made from crystals
    Pikes / Halberds
    "Brimstone" Fire
    Horse drawn artillery
    Stagecoach
    "Paved" Highways w/ Way stations
    Three-masted sailing ships
    Compass
    Marine Sextant
    Accurate measure of time and speed
    Windmills (complex)
    Belt Drives
    Clockworks
    Complex gearing
  • Why did I create my own fantasy setting?

    Background

    When the fantasy campaign I was running came to it's natural conclusion I needed to make some decisions about the setting I was using.  I had purchased the Valdorian Age, from Hero Games. The Valdorian Age is a great setting and it worked very well for what I wanted to do.  Could I start another campaign in the same setting?  How much work would I need to go through to 'reset' the setting to start a new campaign? Did I want to continue to use the same setting?

    The Valdorian Age and the campaign I had run had created a set of limitations which made it impossible to run another campaign in the setting.  The vast majority of the Valdorian Age material revolved around one very large city in the world.  That city is very detailed and has adventures that basically just spring out of the source material.  It is wonderful sandbox city based campaign setting.  To reset to another time frame using that same city meant redoing all the detail around the city.  That did not seem practical.

    In addition to redoing all the detail for the city, I would have to redo the Obsidian Portal site that we had used to track everything about both the setting and campaign.

    Setting vs. Campaign

    A bit of definition concerning setting vs. campaign.  A setting is a place with geography, ecology, history, and physical/metaphysical rules which provide the background for any stories that might told inside that setting.  A good setting allows for many stories to be told.  Those stories can be part of a larger epic or they can stand on their own.  For instance JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth is a wonderful setting and he was able to tell many stories within that setting, some are part of the epic involving the one ring and many other stories are not directly related to the epic involving the one ring.

    A campaign is a specific set of stories (or chapters of a single story) that takes place in a setting.  Usually, for the purposes of a role-playing game, the characters within the campaign are consistent and there is generally a clear beginning and ending for the campaign.  When the campaign ends the only effect on the setting is there is more information about a particular place and time within the setting.  Another campaign can take place before, after or to the side (different location) within the same setting.

    The Valdorian Age, is really a campaign because it is very hard to tell many different stories within the Valdorian Age due to the focus on one major city.  It is very much like the various Batman or Spiderman franchise movies.  How many times can you reboot the Batman or Spiderman franchise and retell their origin story before everyone just says "Meh!"

    Total Control

    When you build your own fantasy setting you have total control over everything in that setting.  Here are some decisions you will get to make:

    • How big is your world?
    • Where is it in relationship to the sun (or suns)?
    • Does it have a moon, multiple moons, or no moons?
    • What is the climate like on the planet?
    • What is the geography of the planet?
    • Are plate tectonics a factor on the planet?
    • What is the ecology of the planet?
    • What kind of wildlife is there?
    • Why are their monsters?  Where did they come from?
    • What intelligent races are there?  What is their relationship to each other?
    • What is the history and mythology of the races?
    • Are there any god(s) (real or imagined)?  What impact does that have on the intelligent races?  If the god(s) are real what direct impact do they have on the planet?
    • Weather?
    • What are the countries and how do they relate to each other?
    • Is there magic?  How does it work?  Who can use it?
    • What kind of technology is available?  Who has access to it?  If there is magic how does that impact the technology?
    • Warfare?  Trade?
    • Languages?

    That is a pretty overwhelming list if you think about it and try to do it all once.

    In my next article I will walk through how I developed my current setting, Nyonia - Celestial Jewels.

  • World Building

    I will publish information on how I built my campaign world, reviews on products that can help with world building and online resources.