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Friday, June 1, 2018

The World of Hearth

With the start of my very first and very amazing weekly D&D group, I decided to make a new world for it to take place in. This is mainly because a) I have very little knowledge of and interest in the geography of the Forgotten Realms (which D&D canonically takes place in), b) Argaenothruzil is dated and unrealistic, c) the World of Warcraft would be a bit too limiting on creativity (and I want to use the creatures found in the Monster Manual without having to reskin them), and d) I wanted to exercise the techniques explained in the worldbuilding chapters of the 5th edition of the Dungeon Master's Guide. As I started to create a world from the ground up, I came up with a few key goals for my new world:

  1. To make a unique, open, explorable world with endless adventure potential for future games
  2. To base the framework of my world off of one I was already familiar with (in this case, Azeroth) to propel my creativity foreward
  3. To make a simple and memorable world that didn't require too much "name inventing" on my part that was easy for players not too well versed in fantasy to feel comfortable in
  4. To make a world that feels unlike earth in as many ways as possible without making the world too confusing

The World as a Whole

First things first, let me show you the world map I've created so far using the online tool Inkarnate:
As you can see, there are no place names like Y'loth or Eresumbardia (except one, Alymiere, which was created by a player). As fun as those names are, they're a bit hard to remember sometimes and require you to write them down and everything, and I want the players to be able to keep them straight more easily. Hence, each continent is named after its position in the world so they can easily be told apart, and each nation has a name created by my Place Name Generator I programmed. 

As for the name of the world itself, on this I actually did quite a bit of thinking. As I've said before, it doesn't realistically make a ton of sense to name a world something arbitrary like Azeroth or Exandria. By definition, the earliest base inhabitants of a world likely were not smart enough to know that they were even on a "world" to begin with, so the entirety of existence as they knew it (i.e., the earth as opposed to the sky above it or the unexplored world beneath it) would have a very basic, familial name. Hence, for my earth, I decided upon the intimate, homey, and yet coincidentally phonetically similar name Hearth.

My current game takes place in Southkeep, specifically in the region of Cloudstone, so it's the only continent I've fleshed out so far. I want the world to be dynamic and evolve on its own, so not everywhere will have mountain ranges and stuff for a while. I wanted to make my world stand out among others, so rather than having a "frozen north," I made my main continents sprawl a southern hemisphere where the farther south you go, the colder it gets. As for the hex grid, I may change this slightly later, but I'm thinking each hex represents about 30 miles. That may seem a little small, which I want to avoid (after calculating the size of Argaenothruzil's entire continent, I realized its entire geographic area was the size of Montana), but realism has a limit, so I'm not going to worry too much about that.

The Nations of Hearth


As I mentioned earlier, I based Hearth off of Azeroth, which you can somewhat see in its basic geography (though Northgarde will be a jungled and desert island rather than a frozen continent like Northrend—the southern continent of Deepshiver will take its place), but the first thing I came up with was actually the nations of the world, not its topography. I based the primary human nations on the nations of Warcraft II, and even matched their banner colors. This helped me quickly establish a
The coat of arms of the nation
of Cloudstone, lorded over by
king Adelard the Angeltouched.
living political world without having to think too much about them. Cloudstone (based on Stormwind) is a religious, independent region that is relatively peaceful in terms of politics and is a welcoming hub for all types of races and a great place for adventures to start. Skytower is based on Dalaran, the floating city where magic is studied, which provides a great place to house wizards, magic item creators, and other things that could be useful and interesting to players. The Sundershore Isles are based on the seafaring nation of Kul Tiras. Highfield is loosely based on the treacherous kingdom of Alterac, but I used that characteristic to instead make it a crime-run nation in Westweald and the source of international thieves' guilds.

For the other nations, realms, and kingdoms, I decided to base them on the available races in D&D. There are cities for hill dwarves (Greenhammer), mountain dwarves (Quarrymarch), and duergar (Undergate); high elves (Amberhaven), wood elves (Goldenvale), and drow (Ravenmoon), and minor cities for other races, such as the tinker town of Cogswarren for rock gnomes. I also decided to open up some options for the players by creating "moon elves," which are drow that do not live underground and are not evil—I feel like including that as a playable race in the game but making them practically un-roleplayable was kind of a miss for D&D.

Anyway, all of these nations are loosely based on the nations of Azeroth, but I'm sure that as the game goes on and players explore the world, the nations will gain personalities and histories of their own. That's the beauty of D&D, and of creativity in general. Once something is created and nestled into a narrative cradle, it gains a spirit and personality all its own that no one creator would have dreamed of.

This is the initial map of the Cloudstone region I'm starting my players at. I have basic conflicts and personalities for each town, but just like the regions, I'm sure each town will grow on its own to be different, unique, and (hopefully) memorable and distinguishable for my players. And I can't wait to zoom even closer in to Cloudstone City itself and map out its districts, wards, and landmarks within the actual city walls!

Making Hearth Come to Life


In order to give Hearth the feel of a living, breathing world, I'm putting effort into changing things that we take for granted in our daily lives. For example, the days of the week are not Sunday through Saturday. They are:
  1. Dawnday
  2. Mornday
  3. Starsday
  4. Midweek
  5. Thundersday
  6. Duskday
  7. Satyrday
Admittedly, this strays slightly away from my desire to simplify the game, but I think as long as I don't overdo stuff like this, it should be more of a benefit than a drawback. An example of simplifying can be seen in how I made Hearth's calendar. Not only are the months of the year different in name, but the calendar as a whole is structured differently. There are twelve months, but each has exactly 28 days (4 weeks each), and twice a year are two holiday weeks that do not belong to any particular month. Starting with what we would call February, Hearth has:
  1. Mudmonth
  2. Swiftmonth
  3. Greenmonth
  4. Thricemilk
  5. Earlymild
    • Midsummer
  6. Latermild
  7. Weedmonth
  8. Harvestmonth
  9. Wintermoon
  10. Bloodmonth
  11. Earlyfest
    • Midwinter
  12. Laterfest
I've been waiting to use these for a while. These I didn't make up—they are in fact the names that Anglo-Saxons used for the months of the year before the Roman calendar came along. Keeping time is something I'm going to take seriously as a Dungeon Master so that things like seasons, holidays, and other aspects of the game can be important to the story. I want my players to look forward to future events, make plans for celebrating Midsummer, and plan around things like precipitation and temperature extremes while adventuring.

To a lesser extent (hopefully to a greater extent in the future), I hope to implement things like colloquialisms and slang that varies by region. These can all grow in time, of course, and I hope to utilize them to make regions feel like actual cultures.

Organizations, Guilds, and Factions


Just like I created ancestral regions and nations for each race, I also decided to base my creation of organizations on the existing classes in the game, as well as on some other ways to specialize. This way, different subclasses can feel like they're part of different groups of people with rivalries, differing (and possibly conflicting) goals. Since the group hasn't discovered the organizations yet, I haven't fleshed them out a ton, but I think once they do, it'll make things like assigning quests and story arcs a lot easier, since they'll have an organization they care about ask them to do something in exchange for prestige, higher ranks, or guild-specific rewards. I've also set up a 5-rank renown system, which I think could come with some awesome creative possibilities in the future. For example, what can a Champion of the Order of the Golden Rose do that a mere Squire can't?

Below are a sample of the organizations I've made for Hearth:
  • Order of the Black Sapphire: An order of conquest and vengeance paladins, clerics of war, and zealots bent on snuffing out evil and dispensing justice across the world. Headquartered in Emberstone.
  • Gearspinners' Union: An organization of tinkers and artificers who believe that technology will replace magic in Hearth someday. Created by the legendary arch-tinker Brymidaine Zecker.
  • Antlergrove Conclave: A neutral organization all druids belong to. They work on maintaining the balance of nature and often commune with the fey of the Dreamsummer. Paladins of the Oath of the Ancients, nature clerics, warlocks of archfey, and other classes are also welcome.
  • The Dirk: A widespread thieves guild that operates in smaller branches called "baldrics" across Hearth. Consists of thieves, assassins, trickery clerics, and swashbucklers/pirates.
  • Skytower Academy: An academy of magic with branches in large towns and cities with elven influence. All wizards who want to make a name for themselves are members, and eldritch knights, arcane tricksters, and arcane archers are often members as well.
  • Anathema Sect: A cult of neutral evil doomsayers who try to bring about the end of all creation by worshiping an ancient entity known as the Anathema. The bard College of Whispers and warlocks of the Great Old One belong to it.
The symbol for the Gearspinners' Union.
Worldspinner.com is pretty handy!
I've also (somewhat) simplified/cut down the planes (I call them realms) of existence of D&D for my game, but I feel like that matters a bit less since the planes are so abstract anyway. The one thing I wish I could do is create a pantheon of gods, but I feel like this is where the line between simplicity and "making the world feel alive" becomes a bit muddled; not to mention, I kind of feel like creating your own pantheon of gods is a bit self-indulgent. You're essentially making up who your player characters worship, which I don't like much. Hence the dilemma: No one unfamiliar with D&D will know who Ilmater or Gruumsh are, but everyone knows who Zeus, Thor, Loki, and Hermes are, so I decided—reluctantly—to just stick with the classic Norse, Greek, and possibly Egyptian deities as the gods of Hearth for now for simplicity's sake. In the future, I may at the very least give them nicknames based on their names' translations like I did with the months of the year (for example, Zeus could simply be called Skyfather), but since none of my current player characters are religious, this'll probably be put on the backburner for a while.

It's a pleasure to have something large-scale to create again! And this time with more knowledge of how to create realistically. I cringe now as I read Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time's weak and nebulous descriptions of the city of Ae'brinthil. Honestly, as a creative writer, I cannot recommend the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide enough for understanding how medieval cities live, work, breathe, and function; as well as how you can make worlds stand out through customizing everything from the calendar to the currency (That's another thing I wish I could customize, calling coins speckings, slants, and temblems instead of copper pieces, silver pieces, and gold pieces, but again, that's where the simplicity line just probably shouldn't be crossed).

I'm also so glad that I can have all these resources I need, such as Evernote, Inkarnate, and Worldspinner, to make these resources so efficiently while retaining their creative integrity. The spark of creation burns!

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