Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Perpetually Under Construction

I spent some of the past weekend playing around a bit more with Hexographer in order to finish off the last few sections of the initial starting area for the Dwimmermount campaign. The area is (obviously) based on the Outdoor Survival map, with some tweaks here and there. It represents most of the ideas I had when I started the campaign, though, in all honesty, very little of what you see on the map are more than names.

Throughout the course of the campaign (still sadly on hiatus owing to scheduling issues), the PCs didn't venture farther into the world than south of Yethlyreom (labeled "Temple of the Moon" on the map) or farther north than the southernmost edge of the Evensong Woods. Most of the action in the game took place in either Dwimmermount proper, nearby Muntburg, or Adamas, with a few visits to Yethlyreom. So, the farther you get from those areas, the less detail you're likely to see on the map.
 I'd be reluctant to say the above was an "accurate" map of my campaign setting, mostly because it's pretty sketchy even after 2+ years of regular play. It's probably truer to say that it's a snapshot of what I, as the referee, know about the world outside of Dwimmermount right now. In actual play, though, some of what I think I know might change, whether by being expanded upon, modified, or outright contradicted. Until something on this map has definitively appeared in play, it's all just conjecture as far as I'm concerned.
As a younger man, I could never have tolerated such an approach to campaign setting design. I needed to know, now, what was beyond that mountain range or across that sea -- and not because I actually worried that the PCs might somehow wind up there in the next session and I didn't want to be caught flatfooted. No, I saw setting design as an end in itself and so I'd spend hours upon hours trying to flesh out every last nook and cranny of these worlds I'd created. Increasingly, I don't see the point in that kind of exercise, but then I'm also neither 14 with infinite time on my hands nor do I see myself as a Tolkien-in-the-making.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I don't think there's anything wrong with alternate approaches to world design; they're simply not for me. Of all the lessons I've learned since coming back to old school gaming, it's keeping the focus on actual play that has had the greatest impact on me. If I'm not likely to need something for the next session or two, I generally don't bother with it. Plus, I get a thrill out of seeing what pours of my subconscious when I have to invent something right then and there in order to keep playing. It's not to everyone's taste, but I love it.

10 comments:

  1. Nicely done! I didn't see this answer in the previous post about your map: what's the scale? Apologies if that's a dumb question. I'm not familiar with Outdoor Survival, either, beyond the name and it's existence.

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  2. I like the map a lot. Broke down and bought Hexographer after reading posts by you and others and then trying the demo. Best move in a while.

    I tend to agree with you about level of prepared detail. My current strategy of fleshing the immediate surroundings v my strategy of creating an encyclopedia at 14 is similar to yours. Lots of great things derive from actual play.

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  3. Your map drives me gnokies! 1 hex = 5 miles...Arrrgh! I have to go redo the map at a sensible scale of 2 miles a hex just to see the valleys and passes.

    My complaint is that awesome cities like the city of brass (the one from the story not the D&D one) were three days in circumference by camel...thats like a city that occupies 3 8-mile hexes.

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  4. Yes, I know what you mean re the subconscious churning out an amazing 'product' once it gets going. As any artist knows, for it to work best one needs to have faith in it. And, it gets easier with practice also.

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  5. Hmm, so Yethlyreom is less than 30 miles from Adamas. I had imagined them being far more separate than that. Looking back, I see that you mention they were close, but having two major powers only a day's march from each other must be ... tense.

    But, on the other hand, I'm feeling more and more that we put too much emphasis on geography in world-building. After all, until the 16th century accurate maps were a real rarity - when the English captured the Portuguese treasure ship Madre de Deus, the thing that got them really excited was the maps & documents detailing the Portuguese trade with the East.

    Maybe we should dispense with any pretence of geographical accuracy and make maps akin to the ancient ones. Show things like which places you should have heard of, whether they are on a river or the coast, which have roads between them, but not get hung up on the distances or compass bearings involved.

    When I spotted "St Gaxyg-at-Urheim", I started looking for other pun or anagram names. The only one that really jumped out at me was "Retep City". I suppose it's a mark of vanity to readily spot reversals of your own first name.

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  6. Great work. I just got my own copy of "Outdoor Survival" and I love what you're doing with it.

    It's hard for me to comment too much on your blog, because I just agree with, and appreciate, so much of what you write.

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  7. Hmm, so Yethlyreom is less than 30 miles from Adamas. I had imagined them being far more separate than that. Looking back, I see that you mention they were close, but having two major powers only a day's march from each other must be ... tense.

    Sometimes, but, at campaign start, the two city-states are allies, albeit somewhat aloof ones.

    When I spotted "St Gaxyg-at-Urheim", I started looking for other pun or anagram names. The only one that really jumped out at me was "Retep City". I suppose it's a mark of vanity to readily spot reversals of your own first name.

    There are a number of anagrams and puns among the names on the map. Some -- like Retep City -- are obvious but others are more obscure and shall remain so, as they're meant to be private jokes.

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  8. Still, i didnt see the whole Starfall thing...I thought it might have simply been the cone of an ancient volcano with breaches in the cone wall...

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