Building My World

As you have probably guessed, Aeryn doesn’t occupy the same fantasy setting as Katra. The gods and goddesses are different, and the landscape is dissimilar. Aeryn is native to a campaign world of my creation.

So, how did this world come into being?

About fifteen or twenty years ago, I drew a map of the Adaran continent as a place to run my D&D games with my kids and write my fantasy stories. My idea began with the landscape, so I drew a rough sketch on the inside of a new composition notebook that I labeled Campaign Outlines. Then my imagination went to work.

As I sketched, an idea began to form: Darkness is spreading across the continent from the west, and most of the population has no idea what’s coming. So far, the evil is just an idea, I haven’t delved too far into the world yet, because none of our adventures ever took us that far. I’ve run a few minor adventures and skirmishes, but my groups never really gained traction for a prolonged campaign. (Life tends to get in the way of some of the best-laid storylines.) Consequently, the notebooks that contain information about the economy, dominant religions, arts among the various races, the spread of humanity throughout the continent, and the wars caused by that expansion are mostly devoid of ink. But the ideas still swim through my head.

The first of my characters to inhabit this world was Meegan Redoak, my half-elven misfit. Her quest to find her father and a place in the world waits patiently for completion. She has met a young halfling who decides to travel with her. The pair falls in with a group searching for a dwarven relic. The party was betrayed from within when … SQUIRREL!

I have been searching for that lost thread for almost thirty years and struggling to complete Meegan’s tale. I want to revisit her story again at some point but will probably need to start over and rewrite her tale from near the beginning. So, I’ll set it aside for now and let my subconscious tease out the journey.

The most complete character story I have so far is that of Aeryn, my young runaway. But more on her adventures later.

How did my world come to be created in the first place, you might wonder? I used to read Dragon Magazine and its companion, Dungeon until they went digital and I no longer had a physical copy at hand. (I do enough switching between screens at work, thank you very much.) The two publications had articles and ideas galore on how to build your own campaign world and provided some simple, pre-generated, one-off adventures to run, that, if strung together with a unique storyline, becomes my personal campaign. So, I grabbed that comp book and started writing notes based on some of the ideas that I was reading.

What I came up with was this: an evil cleric and his twin sister have designs on building an empire that spans the continent. Out of the jungle on the northwest tip of the continent, a part orc cleric dreams of controlling a dragon and instead comes under the control of a demon. When he hears rumors of a ritual that will turn dragon eggs into yuan-ti, he scours the continent for details of the ceremony and, most importantly, dragon eggs. His twin, an arcane mage trained in necromancy, is on her way to becoming her brother’s own personal Lich Lord, and she welcomes the prospect. She is as evil as he.

I came up with this basic premise as I sat with a notebook in my lap, a pen in my hand, and the magazine propped so I could take notes. I have more notes than what I’ve teased at here, but you get the picture.

Over time, I started a comp book I called Religions, then one on History, and so on as I delved into the different topics as my campaign ideas took root. Why separate comp books? Well, for one, I have a touch of OCD, and despite my creativity lying all over my office, I do like to keep things somewhat organized. And I prefer to find information when it’s centrally located, so I categorized my notebooks and labeled them accordingly—one for each character, one for each sector of my world.

While writing this post, I went back and dug out some of the comp books that I’ve shelved for the moment. It’s interesting how some things morph in our minds as ideas begin to form and finally take shape. The map I drew in my original campaign notebook is somewhat different than the one that EK and I use for our campaigns.

My first drawing had a much rougher coastline than the final map. As I look a where I placed deserts and plains and woodlands, I realize the regions on my initial continent would be unlikely to evolve the way I drew them (although they might if the sun rose in the west and set in the east, but for now, that’s more of a stretch than I am ready to take). Which is probably why the landscape changed as the idea matured.

Why go through so much effort to create my own world, to begin with? Well, I figured that if I ever wanted to publish fantasy stories, I wouldn’t worry so much about violating copyright laws or “canon” by using someone else’s world, and I wouldn’t be limited to fan fiction. My world is unique to my characters, and I’m still devising much of the history, economy, and magic systems used throughout my stories. In fact, some of my ideas come from what I imagine a feudal setting would be.

I’ve mentioned before that I have done a LOT of reading in my lifetime. Not all my reading has been limited to fantasy and science fiction. I still love a good historical fiction novel, and some of my favorites have told the stories of some famous people in the Middle Ages. Because of this, a lot of my setting is very Middle-Ages-like. The difference between the lands of the Middle Ages and my world is that my world is populated with not only the human elements trying to make their way through life, but a myriad of creatures traditionally considered mythical, and magic works.

One of the first things I considered in my new world was the economy. This part came to me as I thought of limited transport and widespread barter. So, I thought back to some of the early novels I read, and since cars were still hundreds of years in the future, most people either walked, rode horses or donkeys, or rode in carriages to get from one place to another. I decided to start there and think about how goods would move around the continent.

In my world, the economy is based on sea-going transport, river barges, overland caravans, and traveling merchant families that roam the interior of the continent over cobbled trade highways and unpaved lanes. Local tradesmen and farmers barter their products to the community and if they have a crop that keeps well or an exceptional product that is in demand, to the caravans that travel from one major city to another.

Barter is the primary form of trade outside the major population areas. Very few ordinary people have much in the way of coin lying around. The currency of the land is gold, silver, and copper pieces (think dollar coins, dimes, and pennies). If a family has a few silver pieces lying around in a month, they are deemed rich by their neighbors. Most merchants in the villages that dot the countryside would rather barter than take coin. This fact comes as a surprise to many adventurers when dealing with townsfolk far from cities and towns which tend to want to pay in bushels of wheat, bales of hay, or the cabinet just built. A bright person could easily convert those goods into nights at the best inn, meals for themselves, or extra feed for their horses at the local stable.

Other considerations include time measurements and distance. How long is a day? How is a day broken down? By what units are those increments called? (Hours? Candles? Bells?) What units are used to refer to distance? (Miles? Kilometers? Leagues?) What about smaller units like inches (knuckle or hand) and yards (paces)?

The units you decide to use depends on how you want your world to feel. I chose to use more the nautical term “bell” when the setting is within a day’s ride of the coast, and “candle” when the setting is more inland. If the location is an island, the nautical term is always more appropriate. Because I want my realm to feel less like the world we inhabit, I want to use units that are less common than what we use today, but familiar enough that the reader doesn’t have to learn something new. This means I will probably need to include a glossary to define some of the terms, so I don’t confuse readers.

Those are the first steps I took to build my world. Others might develop their realms differently, but I have always been a bit persnickety about keeping my thoughts organized. More on how I am building the Pantheon of Goddesses and Gods next time.

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