A Grassy, Wind-Swept Sandbox Full of Giants, Part Six
Then, the world changed. Continuing from part five…
I was going to finish the recaps with the discussion of last weekend’s session here, but I got to talking about the map (as one does) and realized the last recap would have to wait for one more post.
Once I realized that Storm King’s Thunder was a “build your own campaign” framework and not a straightforward adventure module and embraced it, that meant that I had to build out the world in order to make room for it all. I went through the module from front to back and placed every location important to the campaign somewhere, and then set myself to the task of filling in as much of the blank space around that as possible.
I discovered that the Silver Coast was waaaaay too small for what the campaign called for. The first version of the “completed” map had pretty much an entire continent’s worth of stuff shoved into a space not that much larger than the state of Virginia, because I was trying to make “1 mile hexes” my base unit of measure, which meant trying to keep Photoshop from choking on an image that should have been 200″ across.
Not a winning strategy. ¬.¬
I completed a Grand, Unified Campaign World map and accompanying gazetteer to give the players, but I knew before it was even done that it wasn’t right. The distances were skewed, some parts of the map were too big, but most were way too small, and so on. I wanted to have something in place by the end of AnthroCon so we could get on with gaming.
And it wasn’t wasted effort by any stretch– putting all the nations in place relative to each other and writing out how they’d been shaped by their common history really helped make the world “real” in my head. It also showed me where the biggest empty spots were, which in turn prompted me to create several nations and historical details that I really like and I’m sure I will use someday, regardless of whether or not it comes up in Storm King’s Thunder.
But it wasn’t done. Not really. So I went back and redid it from scratch, ooooone moooore tiiiime, but this time making damn sure everything was the right size, and in the right place.
To give myself the proper sense of scale, I started with a map of Middle-earth and put a properly-scaled hex grid over it, but even that was a fairly complex process. In order to get a hex grid that would scale up and down with the image and not turn into a blobular pixelley mess, I created it as a pattern fill in Photoshop. But to keep the the different-scale hexes precise relative to each other, that meant I had to draw that map at a scale where the pattern repeat on exactly the right percentages of the pattern size.
…Yes, I realize that’s hard to parse. I can’t come up with a clearer way of describing it. It’s a complex topic. -.- Suffice to say, creating the grid was a mathy fiddly process all by itself.
But once that was in place, I cut up the previous map into nation-sized chunks, appropriately scaled up, scaled down, or chopped into pieces to figure out where they had to go and what size they really needed to be to match previous campaign history as well as fit the vision I had for each nation. The Desert of Xadar, for instance, is supposed to take weeks to cross, while Hestelland should be an open and airy plain where horses run wild for days, and so forth.
It took several days and the project pretty much ate my brain the whole time, but now that it’s done I’m really happy with the result. This is a game world that I can see going pretty well forever, with enough detail and history to feel “lived in” while still having plenty of room for expansion as needed (I tried to leave myself lots of open spots). It’s not suitable for publication or any such thing– it’s got chunks of Greyhawk, chunks of Faerûn, bits of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and of course the Middle-earth nations of Rohan, Arnor, and Angmar with the serial numbers shaved off. But it is a cool place for me and six friends to visit every Saturday night.
It also taught me a lot about world-building in general, which is valuable for creating original works. I will probably use a very similar process to build out Calypsitania and the Fortress of Tears world for writing novels in next.
Next time, part seven, in which we finally catch up to the campaign!