Monday, 4 February 2013

World Building: The Long Game

Dominic Matte
The D&D game I'm currently running, titled The Long Game, has been mentioned a couple of times on this blog, so I thought it would be a good idea to provide a quick overview of the world, and talk a bit about my approach to creating it.

Well, actually, Dallas convinced me it would be a good idea, but anyway, here's the first post.

I find that I approach the world-building for my games differently, depending on a few factors such as where the characters will be spending the most time, where they're starting, and the theme or arc of the campaign. For one of my previous games - Ravenshore - I focused on building a single complete, highly-detailed, and very dense city, since the party would be spending the entire heroic tier there. I had notes and broad strokes for the rest of the continent, but nothing too specific because it wasn't the game's focus.

For The Long Game, I'm taking a different approach. This campaign features lots of travel and investigation all across a major continent with many countries and cultures, and the characters are beginning to see the first hints of war. 

With a much larger scale to work with, I'm starting big and getting specific as the characters' movements require. I built the world map and some quick descriptions of each country and culture, and as the players visit countries or cities, I'm adding detail to flesh things out. That also applies to the map. I sketched out a world map to provide a layout of the world, and as the characters visit countries, I'm creating detailed versions of each country map. Eventually I'll stitch all the fancy country maps together to provide a really nice world map.

Here's a quick overview of Cyfandir and its countries:
The continent of Cyfandir. Click to embiggen.

One of the more powerful and prosperous nations, Adamantina is known for its tactical prowess in battle. The country's leader, the Adamantine Warlord, is haughty and imperious, demanding unwavering loyalty, tribute, and respect. Traitors and deserters are treated very harshly, but the warlord is followed with an almost religious devotion since he is very protective and rewarding of those who respect his authority and perform admirably. The army's infantry is primarily defensive in training, excelling at holding ground and protecting the more offensive magical support and artillery. The army is constantly testing its borders, making small gains wherever possible, but never leaving openings or overcommitting. The nation's cities are all fortresses, dotted across the rocky and somewhat barren terrain.

Not so much a country as a region, Niger is mostly thick, warm swamp cut by rivers and lakes. There are some settlements, but much of the swamp is occupied by dangerous tribal creatures such as lizardfolk and kuo-toa. Some yuan-ti and undead have been sighted, but they tend to stick to the deepest and most dangerous parts of the swamps. Recently, strange predatory plants have been spreading across the wetlands.

This country lies within a huge valley surrounded by mountains on all sides except for the Western Gap which connects to the Dragon's Waste, and a river connection to the sea. The central area in the valley is a large lake where legend has it that the thunder god Raiden can be seen in reflections during a storm. Hyacintho is led by a high priest who communicates with the thunder god and follows his guidance. Most citizens worship Raiden and follow without question, though some don't believe Raiden actually exists, not being in the accepted pantheon. Hyacintho boasts a powerful navy, which frequently makes sea attacks and raids on its naval rival Aes. But since its port is isolated from the rest of the country by the mountain ring, it would be vulnerable to a large-scale assault.

This nation's territory is mostly composed of islands. Most of Aes' people grow up on ships and join the navy for their mandatory years of service. Aes has extremely strict laws which must be followed to the letter, with severe punishment for lawbreakers. Those outside the nation see it as a stifling and dictatorial country, but most of those within are quite happy: crime is virtually nonexistent, and most of the laws are fairly reasonable, so a normal person who is respectful of others is not in danger of being arrested. Aes is led by a Grand Admiral and pays tribute to Melora, goddess of the sea, and Kord, god of storms and battle. 
Over the last thirty years Aes' military scientists have been working to develop superweapons to use in battle. The first successful test was far more powerful than expected or desired, reducing much of Aes' farms on the mainland to dust and expanding the Waste.

Dragon's Waste
A vast desert. Little is known of the territory - the Dragon of the West, an ancient brown, resides in the desert, and does not suffer visitors to live. The neighbouring countries keep a watchful eye in case the Dragon ever leaves the waste, but it's been there for hundreds of years and shows no signs of interest in the outside world.

The northern region spans pine forest, tundra, and icy waste. Like Niger, Hiems is not a proper country with a ruler or government. It's mostly territory that the countries to the south don't want, or found too difficult to capture and hold, due to the cold and the barbarian tribes.
Fifteen years ago a powerful cobalt dragon, now known as Rime, emerged from beneath a glacier and began gathering tribes under his wing. Rime has been slowly pushing south, attacking villages, forts, and outposts and towing savage hordes and winter chill in his wake. His expansion is currently slow, but will eventually reach Canitia, Albus, Argentum, and Ferrum.

Deep within the canyons bordering the Waste is the nation of Cupro. Rivers and vegetation flow through the canyons, but the plateaus above are arid and lifeless. The population of Cupro has built cities inside the canyons and caves, and their position is highly defensible, with only a few viable avenues of approach. Cupro is a very rich nation, but the distribution of that wealth depends highly on the views of the current sultan. Since the nobles place so much value on cunning and deceit, a sultan rarely lasts more than ten years on the throne. Despite the nation's vast wealth, the unstable succession causes fluctuation in quality of life for all but the richest.

A vast plains nation, Aurum is renowned for its mastery of the great beasts of the grasslands. Its military is all cavalry, with different units consisting of riders of different beasts - mounted dinosaurs and elephants form the strongest companies, while the deadly halfling outriders act as strike teams and scouts. Aurum's huge holdings facilitate trade across most of the nearby countries. Aurum doesn't impose taxes, but instead profits on the income provided by the many necessary stops at inns and towns.
The territory also encompasses many ancient ruins from before and during the dark ages.

Viridi is a powerful nation composed primarily of elves and eladrin (formerly at war, but forged a peace treaty a little over two hundred years ago). Viridi's military is small but has mastered the combination of arcane and martial combat, and much of its forces are composed of arcane archers and swordmages. Viridi has the most powerful military on the continent, but the army rarely engages in combat. Viridi prefers diplomacy to war, a philosophy perhaps owing to the treaty that created the country.


Canitia occupies a meeting place between several wild environments, and has a reputation for wild beasts and monsters, as well as the master hunters who pursue them. The country is an odd mix of tribal and urban cultures: it has cities, but the food markets are small and serve only outsiders, since almost all citizens find their own food. Canitians live off the land and learn to hunt at an early age. Canitia is a great source of ritual components and magical ingredients due to the wild mix of deadly creatures across its lands. Wizards, clerics, druids, and other casters come from all over to buy rare components, while mercenaries and adventurers accept contracts to hunt the great beasts. Once a year, the nation's Master Hunter leads an annual hunt against a mysterious spined monster that appears only on the summer solstice.

Not quite a country, but not quite a wild territory, Ferrum is a hilly, forested region with an unusual balance of power. The many warring factions and tribes of the regions have a strange respect for each other, and occasionally - seemingly at random - they form alliances and attack the borders. None of the surrounding nations consider the wilds to be a real threat, but nevertheless, Ferrum is slowly expanding.

Another wild territory. Aerugo is a hot rainforest and jungle region. Deep within the rainforest, past the deadly halfling and gnome headhunter tribes, lies a lone, makeshift city of scholar-adventurers who brave the jungle to explore the hidden ruins, some of which are rumoured to be even older than the fallen empires of Nerath, Bael Turath, and Arkhosia.

Ruber is a nation of tieflings (with a large minority of genasi and other elementals) led by Baelfire, an exiled balor. Baelfire is an intriguing case: he's a demon exiled for not being evil. He has a reputation for having a terrifying and bloodthirsty temper, but has done a surprisingly good job of running the country. The tieflings forgive Baelfire's temper because they see his struggle against his demonic nature in themselves. Ruber's people value family very highly, above all else.
Ruber is located across a chain of volcanoes and covers the area of the solidified lava flows. Most of the country's water is obtained from hot mineral springs or from the seawater purification plant at the ocean's edge. The area tends to be hot, smoky, and sulfurous, but the tieflings don't mind.

Argentum encompasses the mountain range that cuts diagonally across Cyfandir. Its population is small and has only three settlements of note - the three mountain citadels - but Argentum is known for its force of wyvern-riding knights. The few passes that wind through the mountains are patrolled and taxed by officials, and the country makes good money from these trade routes.

A city-state to the south of Cyfandir. The massive outer walls contain Chalybs' farmland, and the inner walls host the city itself. The city is mostly self-sufficient - it pumps water up from underground, and the farmland produces more food than the city needs, but it must import materials such as cloth and wood. The city hosts Chalybs University (the biggest centre of learning on the continent), the Temple of the Eleven (a massive temple for all religions), and the headquarters of the CWNN (Cyfandir Wizard News Network). Recently the city has been so successful in eliminating poverty and raising standards of living that government workers are beginning to talk of unionizing. The Plumber's Guild - the workers who maintain the pumps and sewers - are the first to have done so successfully.

Albus is in shambles due to an event ten years ago known as the Whitehelm Reaping. A lone Canitian warrior named Victor Whitehelm used an artifact called the Edge of Sanity to slaughter nearly the entire Albusian army, killing ten thousand samurai, before disappearing. In the ten years since the Reaping, the emperor has desperately tried to rebuild the military, sending younger and younger boys to train in the samurai tradition. But their training has been rushed and incomplete, and Albus only has a very small army of soldiers that cannot even properly be called samurai.
The country is divided into seven territories, each maintained by a noble family with their own estates. Each family is responsible for the defence of their borders, maintaining a major keep and several smaller forts. Each has different customs and traditions. 

Whew, long writeup. That wraps up the summary! You'll be hearing more about this game as it goes on.

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