View Full Version : Fantasy population centers, motives, and history

11-11-2009, 01:46 PM
A question for fantasy RPG map makers.
How much do you worry about "does this make sense"?

I have been working on my main continent map. World is larger then earth. Continent is about 8000 miles wide and 6000 miles tall. Goes from equatorial to arctic regions.

I found two posts here that go into a lot of great detail about human populations and density during the middle ages. Lots of good info I want to use. But it's based on our history, not fantasy.

Why are the different races where they are What explains the old tombs, temples, etc?

If the world is very old, lots of old stuff to your PCs to discover and explore, why is it there? or do you just not worry too much about the why?

Over the thousands of years that the world has been around the races have varied alliances and enemies, at one point or other everyone has been at war with everyone else?
One group gets too powerful and the others team up, or a plague, or a serious magic catastrophe (like a modern nuclear war) pops up and wipes things out?

Just curious what others have done with this or don't sweat it?

11-11-2009, 04:29 PM
Ahh this is a favorite subject of mine, my favorite part of worldbuilding. I think one of the most important things to decide at the start is the level and quantity of magic, both in terms of creatures and powers, items, forces etc. This is followed immediately by the age of the world, not just the age of the current civilizations but has it been around for several rises and falls. Next is connectivity to external planes, are these running in close parallel to the world where one can just find "weak" places and step right through into an elemental plane? Those sorts of places would definitely effect your geography and your populations, especially hostile planes. Also of importance at this step is the nature of the underground portion of your world, is there a version of the underdark underlying most if not all of your landscape? And are there portions in an older world where there has been collapses of the surface creating deep chasms full of not very nice things.

Depending on your magic content, populations can be fed with much less agriculture than in our own middle ages. There also would be a lot less disease and famine where there are divine magics to counter such maladys. This makes nice strong populations centers which you need because if there is strong evil out in the world then these are heavily fortified and magically protected so don't expect to have many outlying structures beyond a cities walls except where they can maintain their own defenses. There may not be roads connecting cities together, unless they can be adaquately protected in tracts of wilderness. Sea travel and commerce is even more viable because a ship can take its defenses with it in the form of strong magical barriers and wards, much more so than a man on horseback can. Beyond that there are many magical means of transporting goods and trades between cities. So your civilized areas may well be quite isolated, distant points on the map...unlike in our middle ages where population centers just grew outwards from initial settlements eventually ruralizing and connecting to one another. -In a fantasy world there are forces at play that prevent growth and expansion, territories of ravaging beasts, dragons, evil critters who live off of human and other races flesh. Things that would demolish and devour a full legion of well trained and equipped roman centurions, so conventional historical warfare as we know it may not even have developed in parallel to our history...those were fine to fight other countries and conquer many lands in our own history they were designed to fight people - it goes to pot quickly when an army of undead arises flanked by werewolves who can outdistance and take down your cavalry and lead by dragonmounted liches who can cut through a huge swath of the hardiest soldiers with a simple spell and then raise them up again to fight in their horde.

All of these things and more can have a bearing on what your landscape looks like. How has magic been used to alter the natural evolution of the geography? Where are the no-mans-lands, controlled by things that shouldn't be named? Where have druids been at work creating trees of enormous size and which forests and rivers are warded by dryads and sprites? Which mountains do dwarves call home and what have they done to them to say "keep out!" to any wouldbe tresspassers? Where have mages been working with earth elementals to build great barrier walls and rise up towering pinnacles of hardest stone to erect their sanctums on?

11-11-2009, 04:53 PM
Making sense is the main focus of my world and culture building - from the ground up. I don't put swamps in cold latitudes because that doesn't make sense to me; I don't put frogmen in deserts because that doesn't make sense either, in an evolutionary way. Explaining dungeons and mystical shrines can be as easy as saying some long forgotten and dead culture or race made them. That dead culture, if they lived in a cold area, would never have seen palm trees so I make sure that there are no palm trees in their art...I use wolves and bears and maples and firs. If all of the bits don't fit together then the whole world is just laughable to me. Just a few minutes of thought and reason can usually iron out those sorts of things, though. So, yes, I put a lot of thought into the things I do and not just put things together willy-nilly.

11-11-2009, 05:52 PM
There's a few very interesting online tools dealing with fantasy demography for purposes of roleplaying (e.g. http://www.rpglibrary.org/utils/meddemog/ ). These could be cross referenced to medieval (because these days fantasy is synonymous to medieval for some reason) demographic or infrastructure works.

Worldbuilding is a really good term to use when searching for these online as well.

11-11-2009, 06:46 PM
It is your world and you can choose whatever direction logical or illogical that you wish. Much like many published worlds and adventures often make no sense with the ecosystem. How many sentient beings can truly develop and live that close together. I digress

Personally I prefer to start with a small area and expand outwards as that way you do not feel stuck by your own work. I generally have a good idea where I want people but as to ruins and lost places they should stay that until you decide It needs to be where the PC's are at. Nothing is more frustrating to me then choosing a place and then being stuck with my results later.

The problem with being stuck on the macro it is not significant to the game. The players only care about what is in front of them. Some my find the history and background cool but it is more an exercise for you to enjoy your world more not them .

Players exist and play in the micro. They only care about your world as far as it effects their character. They don't care why the creatures are placed that way they just care if they are going to interfer in their plans and adventure.

If you are really lucky you will have players that will build a background and a good history for their character which helps give the world more life for them in my opinion.

Just my opinion take it or leave it :)

11-11-2009, 09:17 PM
Good points Xyll. I tend to think of writing and forget gaming so for gaming your points are quite spot-on.

11-12-2009, 02:39 PM
Thanks for the feedback so far.

I guess I just want some bit of backstory so that the micro events make some sort of sense.

i guess its the concept of great evil that I need to keep in mind. I need to STOP thinking about real world events.

My current thought is-
Every 500-1000 years someone attempts to take over the entire world and the battles are so huge that vast areas are wiped out or in their rise to power they go just a little too far in their magic and blow everything up (think nuclear winter or meteor impact type of event) so years of no sun almost every thing dies. Small pockets of the different races start to make a come back and spread.
Someone rediscovers an old power and the cycle repeats.

11-12-2009, 03:24 PM
ohhh "years of no sun" -

I have a world that a group of adventurers traveled to briefly...It has no sun. It is set about 1000 years after the death of the god of the sun for that material plane. Magic and volcanism have kept the planet alive in space, orbiting the burnt out cinder of its sun. All is shrouded in night. Creatures and plants which cannot survive without daylight are no more and the landscape is rampant with fungus, rot, and creatures who would normally only be found deep within the darkest depths of the world. The PC's who adventured there did not stay long...I should dig out what maps I made for this world and scan them in.

11-12-2009, 04:07 PM
The micro events will work with the macro as long as that is the plot line of you adventures. like i said it is great to have a good background but for playing purposes it is only important as far as it concerns the characters. If your characters are racing around trying to stop the cataclysm then it is important to know what it is and who is building it up if not. Then as a footnote for the world it should be brief and more time spent on what the players are likely to experience. Unless you want to create it to motivate your world and more importantly yourself.

11-12-2009, 04:29 PM
If you are looking for motivation then you could always use a God of Death/Slaughter waxes and wanes in power and every thousand years the god is at his peak and go from their. With the players trying to stop its minions or in reverse trying to save the "savior" who allows the world to return back to its normal state. I think every 500 years is a bit soon as your long lived races could have lived through multiple cataclysms and the recovery rate would not be that fast.

Another theme could be a multi part artifact/item/spell that the players are racing around trying to keep out of the wrong hands.

Your options are endless.
However I think the time frame should be on the milenium scale not the century scale.

11-12-2009, 05:29 PM
Thanks for the feedback so far.

I guess I just want some bit of backstory so that the micro events make some sort of sense.

i guess its the concept of great evil that I need to keep in mind. I need to STOP thinking about real world events.

My current thought is-
Every 500-1000 years someone attempts to take over the entire world and the battles are so huge that vast areas are wiped out or in their rise to power they go just a little too far in their magic and blow everything up (think nuclear winter or meteor impact type of event) so years of no sun almost every thing dies. Small pockets of the different races start to make a come back and spread.
Someone rediscovers an old power and the cycle repeats.

Planetary reset...
Good aspects: allows societies to wipe each other off and explain lots of nice ruins, etc.
Bad aspects: It took nearly 1,000 years to get from the Iron Age to the Medieval period. "Nuclear Winter" = pre bronze age. You will reset society back to nomads.
Conclusion: 1,000 years is too short a cycle. A 2,500 year cycle may work better (even accounting for magic).

Sentient Beings
Have as many sentient beings as you need, the Gods are creative suckers.

Common Causes for Empires Dying
There are generally 3 main causes for the end of an empire
1. Another new empire with good Generals (see The Ottoman Empire, the War of the Roses, end of the Teutons, Egypt vs Alexander, etc)
2. Getting old, socially sick (think Romans) and slowly collapsing (100-200 year death)
3. Getting scrubbed out by an unforseen tragedy (disease wipes out whole cities crippling economies, major resources propping up the empire run out, droughts cripple the populace and consequently cash flows out of the empire to buy food)

11-12-2009, 08:29 PM
I think I was thinking too much.

I don't intend to map this ruin is here, this one there, castle of doom goes here.

But I do want the main population centers in place.
I have been playing around with the ZombiNirvana videos

I want a small like ,1kx1k miles area, that will be the burnt edge, rough sketch map of major things that is known to the players. no super detailed, but the dwarves are here, elves here, dont go here.

In reading all the responses I like the idea of huge evil and huge good going back and forth. Settlements dont spread out like on earth because its so dangerous. My largest current empire is is maybe 3x600 miles, most are 100 mile circles/blobs.

11-17-2009, 07:47 AM
I think that making sense it vital to world design and adventures. Even though magic is a useful thing for DMs, I have been in situations (in my early years) where magic wasn't enough for the players and the whole make-believe was shattered like a tower of playing cards.

I feel that maintaining a strong sense of realism in any world is critical for a successful and immersing RPG session. The players (at least the ones I've encountered) are thrilled when they found out the why's of an adventure, of a place or a villain.

In addition to all this, we have to take into account that our experiences do not involve magic. The way we perceive the world, the way we act and think has nothing to do with magic. Although our imagination is extremely powerful, there are limitations to what we can feel as being "real". Having this in mind, helps develop a setting and an adventure that the characters can relate with and put things in perspective.

On the other hand, it is a lot of work and sometimes it can suck the fun out of the game for the DM. There is a subtle balance which once achieved makes the game shine.

11-24-2009, 06:17 PM
Somberlain, don't forget this quote (and I've forgotten who it is originally from and I'm sure I'm doing a ghastly paraphrase).

Sufficiently advanced technology is close enough to magic.

So if there is a technology you'd like to include, or something "far fetched" then realistically making it magically based works within the world. Plus, thinking outside the box can make some great stuff.

Once said that you could make hand grenades by basically having a brass shell with hard packed gunpowder inside the shell and a small glass container of alchemist's fire. Shake the ball and throw, before it blows up in your hand.

12-07-2009, 02:17 PM
in terms of population centers even in a relatively young civilization, climate would be one of the more important factors. That in combination with geographic location and then having a primary population center appropriate to each nation (of sufficient age) or region and its agricultural or economic support (for that population) potential.

If you look at the earth, almost all of our population centers are relatively recent developments.. with the exception of maybe eastern China which has been quite densely populated for a long time compared to the rest of the earth. In anything but the modern age great cities have risen and fallen at the whim of monarchs / military leaders or nature. Perhaps nowadays we have the means to combat the elements to some extent.. but if you take away the reasons for that city being there.. eventually it will wither. Many of the most opulent cities of the near east (for example) have suffered from repeated conquests and never regained their former glory (Antioch).

So basically.. not all of your population centers have to have a very long history and man-made phenomenon like agriculturally induced desertification can play a huge role in herding populations into a relatively small region (Nile Valley). Or colonization can build huge industrial centers that burn bright and die in a cosmic instant (Detroit).
I probably rambled but i hope i stated something helpful? :)

12-10-2009, 04:21 AM
Sufficiently advanced technology is close enough to magic.

I believe is:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

I love that quote.

My worlds do not have magic as most fantasy rpg's go but they do have "black box" technology that will knock your socks off. Complete with nano-bots and what-nots. It's still a fantasy setting but there is a scientific underbelly of reason for what can be done. There are things not invented that can be done in my gaming world but I obviously can't explain the laws behind it because they don't exist yet and may never exist...it's called fantasy after all :)

I like to have reasons for why things exist in my worlds and I spend a lot of time doing stuff my players almost never learn of.

Most locations of civilizations have been built over the ruins of those who came before. There is a reason that site was originally chosen and probably applied to those who rebuilt there as well. (eg, Water, food, defense.) Likely there are ruins beneath every old and established city.

On the flip side, I always find it funny to have tons of dungeons all over the place....I mean think of the effort that would take and for what? Unless it's a booby trapped entrance to a lair how far is someone really going to go? I have to admit Dungeons are still fun to romp in now and then but I have mostly gone over to smaller more realistic types of structures.

When I first started playing many moons ago, we had dungeons everywhere and my friend and I took turns as the DM. We were pretty much out to kill one another's characters off too, LOL. We were kids, it was great. Now I like to make people sweat it out for a few rolls on the edge of their seat. If they survive they are ecstatic because they feel like they just walked the edge and pulled off something amazing. You will hear stories of that for years to come and that is rewarding as a GM. You do have to kill someone off every now and then or players won't respect you.

[I think I'm starting to ramble so I'm done.]

12-11-2009, 11:45 PM
A question for fantasy RPG map makers.
How much do you worry about "does this make sense"?

Yes of course, but I think it is more of a reflex and I notice it, that it is a burdon to any form of creativity, which is essentially wanton creativity and a desire to be or influence in a remote way, that is what this whole Fantasy Genre RPG thing is all about, but I find it more and more annoying that the older I get the less 'fantasy' my mind becomes.

I tend not to worry overly if I am considering where to place mountains, I tend to just do the intuative glance and think real quck about what the 'flavor' is for those mountains on the map... what makes them, them...

I am moving more and more away from having anything like some of the serious descusions on this board about populations and such... its fantasy, I like to keep it that way, but not too 'fantasy' and cartoonish.

12-12-2009, 02:21 AM
Absolutely Awesome Discussion guys , some very good points made, repping all involved

12-15-2009, 01:40 PM
As far as this goes, I think it is completely paramount that everything makes sense, it is what allows your world to suspend reality.

I have done a guide called Cartographic Demographics and Economics. I use the same method to assign each country and thus hope for uniformity at the end of it. If you stick to a system I believe you can make sure that your world is believable, especially when it comes to matters which general conform to normal statistical distributions such as settlement development.

I think the important thing to ascertain demographics is to get the order in which you do things correct. First work out the position of your country on your planet - climate etc. Then work out the area of the country. Extrapolate the two to work out the population density, from this there is plenty of mathematical theory on how settlements develop. My guide is on medieval settlements. By using a system you work out the amount of cities, towns, villages, universities, castles, ruins, merchants etc. If you don' take this approach and simply delve into using your mind to decide mathematical matters, I find the results are generally not consistent and as complexity increases increasingly irrational.

12-21-2009, 04:48 PM
There's a few very interesting online tools dealing with fantasy demography for purposes of roleplaying (e.g. http://www.rpglibrary.org/utils/meddemog/ ).

I love when I stumble across links to my site. :D

That being said, I honestly don't worry too much about realism, myself. I mean, I stick with the obvious things -- mountains are usually on the edges or between continents, land masses and forests rarely have straight edges, rivers go downhill and tend to combine rather than diverge, cities tend to be on coasts, in bays, at intersections of rivers, and so on -- but when it gets down to the minutiae of what's "realistic" and what's not, I really just don't worry about it too much.

For example, in my current fantasy game, the world (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=8377) is much older than the civilizations currently in it. This is even part of the mythology. So there are ancient temples, ruined cities, and whatnot in places where there is no rational reason for them to be.

Also, the centers of non-monster population (cities, towns, etc.) tend to be much farther apart than in our world. I make a faint attempt to rationalize this by saying that the world is, in general, harsher and less fertile than our world (this, too, is part of the mythology). But really, I just wanted lots of wilderness to explore, and I wanted overland travel between to be difficult. I want cities to feel isolated. So they are.

The thing is to keep your priorities in order. Why are you putting this effort into making maps and writing up countries and histories and so on? If it's to provide backstory for a game, then as along as it serves that purpose, it really doesn't matter if anyone else thinks it's "realistic". If it's for your own entertainment, then put as much or as little effort into it as you enjoy. There aren't any "fantasy police" who will fine you if your cities are too large or your rivers are going the wrong way.

That being said, if you enjoy making the world believable, then by all means, put effort into that. But keep things in perspective.

That's my two cents, anyway.

01-21-2010, 01:28 AM
I've had this problem with my own story, I don't like heavy magical worlds my worlds are more like Tolkiens, long drawn out with few very powerful magical entities. But finding help with pre-medieval demographics and lifestyles are much harder because so many fantasy are commonly medieval in sense.

My current story I am trying to work out involves a post-neolithic hunter/gather tribe as the first people to enter a land between 2 large mountain ranges. I wonder how they would culturally and demographically develop by themselves culturally and demographically before more groups are introduced in my story. I want to spread them out over the valley over a few decades to maybe a couple centruries and create cultural tension between themselves as they prosper economically and agriculturally while creating a social system beyond a nomadic life.

01-26-2010, 12:01 PM
Do any of yall have any ideas on tribal demographics and anything related to pre-dark ages when people have started settling down but are still hunter-gathers even though they practice forms of agriculture.

01-26-2010, 06:21 PM
I think the easiest thing would be to just make it a matter of math and numbers...scale things down or back or whatever.

01-27-2010, 08:35 PM
Probably easiest example would be to look at current Bedoin Tribes. They'd be of the kind of scale you'd expect from ancient tribal groups.

Cčsar de Quart
01-28-2010, 06:42 PM
Being myself a historian (although a recently titulated one) I wanted to re-create a world as the people in the XIIIth Century though it was. Ancient history is semi-mythical, and becomes more realist the closer to the present date you come. There's magic, there are dragons, faeries, banshees, vampires... but all in small doses. Magic is so restricted that all the mages in "Europe" are like 100. And they have to hide most of the times, from the Patriarchate (the Counsil of the Temples, some kind of decentralizated Church). Fantastic creatures are not common, although they were in the past (as many people though back then). And many times, magis is there, but hidden. I don't want any mages throwing firebolls from their eyes, I want them to be subtle, their magic to be something etherial, and far more powerful than the power of casting a fireball or destroying a wall.

But this world is also a pseudo-historical one, so everything has a far relative in actual Middle Ages. There's the remain of a once great empire, decaying slowly in the east; there's a dynamic region in the south-west, there's heresy, there's a schism between the Northern Temples, the Western Patriarchate and the Imperial Temples; there's an invading once-nomad dynasty, threatening "Europe", and, of course, I try to make everything to follow a due historical path. Everythin has their cause and every was has its origins.

Usually, fantasy tries to explain everythis as if it was a myth. Tolkien did it because he wanted to create a myth, but many other just followed his boat in the river, without considering that a was is not automatically casted when two countries have kings who are enenmies, and some don't see that a war's winner doesn't really need to become a great power. Maybe that victory feeds only the most powerful, thus deepening the social troubles and economical disparities, making the way for a full-blown rebellion, a loss of militar manpower, huge emigration...

Take the Byzantine Empire in 1204 as an example: It was in deep crysis, and one of those crysis was the problems betweent the capital, Constantinople, and the provinces. When the Western crusaders assaulted, sacked and took Constantinople in 1204, it looked like the end of the empire, which scattered into three different empires. Far from it, one of those successor states succeeded in recovering Constantinople, stronger than before 1204 because the conflict capital-province was gone (since the capital had been lost).

Take care!

01-30-2010, 03:54 AM
Nice. I feel like this thread has made me feel at home on these forums when I otherwise have little else to do on it besides look at some awesome maps (which is okay in itself).

I have absolutely got to think things through in my head as I make a world. Often, this simply means using rational thought and comparing my world to the countless others I've seen and played in. Sometimes, I even have to do some calculations. But one of the things that helps me most, is finding an inspiration for the PEOPLE in the world, because that is what is going to be driving it.

Well, not the only thing that's going to be driving it, but among the animal, monster, plant and divine lifeforms are the humans and other sentient beings who are stuck trying to make a nice living there. What do they do? Their crops are being eaten by a mysterious swarm of bugs. How does this culture handle that? If a mage became too powerful and unhappy became a threat to the community, what would they do then? I ask myself questions like these as I draw up the world in my head. Then, I like to map things out (which is what brought me to this site), and it is the map that usually seals the deal for what goes in and gets left out of my world.

I can usually do a fantasy/medieval world rather easily, especially if I have a good measure of magic and divine intervention to rely on. The current world I'm doing is a far future fantasy combo that is really testing my world-building skills. I can't rely on the deities because there are none in existence (although the people don't know that). The little magic that is present is not really magic, but based on the world itself and is therefore quite limited. it can be very powerful, but it is kept in check by it's source. The technology based on the magic is rather advanced,which means that travel, communication, health and everyday life is rather high end, so even large distances don't mean as much as they would otherwise, but I've kept those things in check by making the world very hostile. Meaning, that the world was practically destroyed once.

It was on life-support, in a manner of speaking, and the inhabitants had to cease their destructive ways and hole up in the only stable spot they were able to find. With the means to build a rather nice community there, albeit relatively small, they prospered, but dared not stray too far outside it's borders. Meanwhile the planet was recuperating, as it were. Finally, after so-long-many years it was through and ready to impart it's power to the people again, but only if they used it responsibly. The people finally got the message and decided that staying cooped-up within a large and otherwise impressive city was rather boring when there was a newly grown-over world out there to explore and take pieces of as their own. They did, and the Age of Venture came about. This is the age in which the players find themselves.

The cities are far apart with towns sprinkled between. There were already tensions (as one could imagine) forming among the groups while they were stuck inside the city, but they managed to get along in view of their mutual limitations. Out in the wilds, however, it's every man for himself, trying to build cities and make a name for himself. So I stuck to ancient wars that were fought, leading up to the period where the players find themselves today. A council has been formed to prevent such things and while it seems precarious at times, it's kept a relative level of peace long enough for people to feel comfortable again.

I have deliberately kept the number of races small. There are two. Well, those two and the technologically-enhanced versions of both of those races, which at times may be drastically different than nature intended. But they are unique enough to be a race of their own design (literally), and even have representation on the council.

Then there's the rare, ancient, yet amazing technology that has been unearthed that seems almost magical in nature. No one record knows where these devices may have come from. Perhaps a third race? Who knows? I sure don't.

01-31-2010, 04:04 AM
Although not a historian in any sense of the word, i do read and watch alot of hisotry programs. I love the early years of our evolution. From what I can gather, there are defininetly periods in our history that correspond to what you are looking for with respect to stable populations that still have a hunter/gatherer populuation componenet. If you look at some of the early mezo-american civilizaitons, they practiced a slash/and burn farmology while having a strong hunter/gather component to their farming. In addition, they conducted considerable trade even in these early times. when the land ceased to be productive, they simple moved to another location and simply moved to another spot. the jungles of the south and central american basin were such that the land quickly regenerated itself rather quickly.

If you are looking at a more european feel, then you have a very similar tribal structure very early in our development, short lived towns that served as bases for hunting and gathering. Even a limited amount of farming with wild seeds and berries. these would susstain them for a season or two before they were forced to move on to a new area.

hope this helps,

02-05-2010, 12:56 AM
Great topic! It's important to balance fun fantasy with realism - and it's difficult to measure realism in a world that doesn't exist! :P (I love reading about this stuff, though! I think about it when I'm working on my stuff; it's encouraging to see others care just as much.)

I've been taking an evironmental class for my degree, it has helped a lot. I would suggest buying a book or watching a program that covers environmental science (the study of people and other living things interacting with the environment). We've discussed some the topics you all have brought up in my class.

One thing I've learned: nature is the boss. No matter what religion people practice, no matter what they believe, or far they have come with technology - nature can sweep through with just about anything. High population = a greater risk of using up resources. With increase in technology (and magic) this could only get worse. So, when I'm plotting, I always make sure nature plays a part.

03-10-2010, 01:37 AM
I'm just beginning to design my first world right now (just drew up the continents today) and I definitely plan on making sure I know the "why" and "how" things are where they are and making sure things make sense. I want my players to be able to use magic and have casting characters without too much predjudice against them, but I want magical items to be a bit rare.

To make this make sense, I'm planning on a world where magic users are pretty common, but magical artifacts and tools are not so much so. However, magical items were a bit more common during a past civilization that had fallen, and even more powerful ones were more common in a civilization before that where the ruins are harder to find, and when found, much less often are they unpillaged.

To explain this, I'm imagining something along the lines of what has been said in many of the early responses to this thread, a waxing and waning of the power and knowledge of civilization through some force, whether it be gods, the irresponsibility of powerful civilizations, etc. One path I was thinking of following is along the lines of while the goodly civilizations gain in power on the surface, those of the Underdark do as well and every few millennia become powerful enough to invade and almost totally wipe out the surface dwellers, while also overreaching themselves and being beaten back into submission by those that remain.

It doesn't have to be the same thing every time either. One time it could be that the civilization was conquered and overrun, another it could be that they over reached their bounds with magic and were punished by the gods and had it, and the basis for their advanced civilization, taken away for a few generations (I like that idea, thanks Bladesake). I know one of my catastrophes, probably one of the most recent two, will be a plague that only targeted elves and wiped out 95% of their population. This is how the humans managed to become the dominant race in the world over a race that is much longer lived and much more wise and knowledgeable than they are.

Anyway, I'm rambling. But yeah, every decision I make to place a city or to populate a general area is going to have to make sense. The hard part is trying to figure out what extra factors come into play in a fantasy world. I know I'm going to have to have city states where the population huddles close to the city because of the nearby goblin infested mountains, and that city state won't be able to advance how it would have in the real world.

Kaiser MacCleg
03-11-2010, 08:36 PM
For me, the "why" is the most important question to ask yourself when creating a world. Take my fictional country, the Kingdom of Nebūr (part of a larger world but the rest of the world isn't really fleshed-out enough for me to use it as an example). I've made sure I know every reason behind the way the Kingdom developed, and why it came to be in the first place. Nebūr is isolated from the rest of the world by a vast desert, and the only reason it can exist are the prevailing winds which deliver a hot but wet climate to the region. The water vapour carried from the ocean by the south-westerlies condenses as it rises over the mountains of Arkam Medīl, at the heart of the Kingdom, from which many rivers spring which feed the farmlands of the Kingdom. At the same time, the mountains create a extensive rain shadow which is the main reason behind the existence of the deserts to the North and East. The mountains themselves are the result of ancient tectonic forces, and although Nebūr itself is no longer on a plate margin, many active faults still criss-cross the mountains, which is what gives Nebūr it's mineral riches and why it's cities are constantly threatened by earthquakes.

In the same way, although I haven't actually developed a language, I've made sure the names I've used have a certain consistency, and that I know the meaning behind them. Akadhrazūn, for instance, means "The Dying Land", from Ak, "land", and Drazūn, "dying", and it's named as such because desertification is leading to the abandonment of farmsteads, villages and whole cities. Everything has a reason. :)

03-12-2010, 01:33 PM
I'm running a D&D campaign in a slowly developing world. It's a magic heavy campaign as we use the D&D 4th edition rules with my own extra rules incorporating more magic potions/drugs/enhancers and my own version of the runelord magic (Runelord by David Farland http://www.runelords.com/ ). I've only thought about the basic ideas for the world yet. As I've started the players out in a city (which I'm currently mapping) most of the stories have centered around it. They have begun on level 1 so they are not very strong yet (level 4 now) - so, the stories and encounters I have made for them has been week ones, and ones making them friends in a bit higher places - gently guiding them to the storyline I've roughed out. So, I haven't had use for a big world history yet, only some general pointers of where I wanted them to go (now and later) and what type of world they live in. It works fine and I can add to the story as I go along. As a matter of fact I just added a new player to the group lately and I used a random event the group had experienced (being passed by forcehorses on the road to adventure) to hitch up to the back story of the new player.
So all in all - I don't find any reason to plan too much - its easier to change course if everything isn't carved in stone :)