by Joe Wetzel (joewetzel at gmail dot com)
The quickest approach to creating a usable fantasy world is to start with the small, local area where the characters’ initial adventures will occur. Some larger issues must still be considered such as how the local area will fit into the culture, terrain and climate of the surrounding area or some broad points about religion or gods that may be important to some characters, but with this approach the time spent on those issues can be minimized.
However, if you have a great concept for one of these larger issues or one of them will play a major role in the early stages of your campaign, you should consider detailing the other concept first or in depth and in tandem with the local area. An article is available here on designing fantasy religions and an example is also available.
What is needed in the local campaign area? Since this area will usually be used for the first few adventures (the characters may move on to bigger things later) the characters will need:
- A place to rest, somewhat safely.
- A way to train/gain spells/pray/etc.
- A source of adventure hooks.
- Interesting people to run into.
- A place to buy equipment.
- A place to adventure.
There are several home bases that can satisfy these requirements: a village, a town, an outpost, a manor or a city. Each of these options is well suited for a number of different types of stories or campaigns. The following are definitions for each location type:
- Hamlet: A small number of simple homes grouped together. The residents usually engage in the same profession, typically farming or fishing.
- Village: Like a hamlet but slightly larger. It will have at least one stone building (usually a church) but it may also have an inn, blacksmith or general store.
- Manor: The home of a minor noble. A hamlet or a village may be on the noble’s lands and the residents owe fealty to the noble.
- Town: A community large enough to support more than one major industry. It might be a farming village with a nearby mine for example. The community is also capable of supporting several tradesmen such as leather workers, specialist smiths, etc.
- City: A much larger community with several active industries. It may also have some monuments or claim to fame. (A major library, palace, etc.)
- Outpost: A military encampment used as a defensive point or a base for offensive actions. Depending on the outpost’s age and number of troops a village or town may be nearby or incorporated by the outpost.
Throughout the local area design process it is important to include fantasy elements as you can think of them. Perhaps the village is built into the side of a cliff or a small town is suspended in the trees or a major building is built from a dragon skeleton or a local spring has supernatural powers. These features remind the players they are in a fantasy world and make your setting more distinctive.
- “Dungeoncraft” by Ray Winninger, Dragon magazine #260, Wizards of the Coast.
- “Dungeoncraft” by Ray Winninger, Dragon magazine #261, Wizards of the Coast.
- World Builder’s Guidebook by Richard Baker, TSR 1996.