Monday, January 5, 2015

Islands, Maps, and World Building

We’re eight sessions into our 13TH Age campaign. Players built the world over via a Microscope session, and then I fleshed it out. We ended up with 12 Icons unique to this world, plus one borrowed from the original (The Prince of Shadows). Right out of the gate, the players threw me for a loop with the inclusion of an enormous, visible Titan holding up the sky. A world of islands spun out from that.

Over the sessions we’ve added to the backstory: new places, filling in concepts, figuring out big setting issues. The PCs have visited several locations: Ascarioth, Cerika, Unconquered Port. So far I’ve been able to handwave distances and directions. But last session they asked for more exact figures and some kind of map. Given that they’re going to have to make choices between different destinations I knew I needed to draw one up. The holiday break gave me the perfect excuse to work on it, so of course I put it off until the last minute.

Below you’ll see two versions of the map- one with locations labeled and the other with “national” regions marked out (I’ll come back to why the latter’s in quotes). I’m not an artist and I’ve never gotten the hang of cartography tools I’ve tried. Despite that failing on my part, I managed to put together something decent, I think. I spent a chunk of time figuring out presentation. I made a circle in Photoshop, printed that out, and drew in the outer edge stuff (which you can barely make out) and the big six landmasses. Then I rescanned it. Because I’d printed it on weirdly flecked paper, I got some nice artifacts out of it. I drew in some islands in Photoshop, but mostly I searched for splatter patterns in Google images and dropped those in various places. For the ocean texture I found a world map and grabbed a relatively empty section of the Pacific and layered that in after resizing. I opted not to color/texture the larger land masses because I want to leave those open for later.

Both maps are intended to be rough and not necessarily to scale. For the second map I tried to mark out the major cultures/organized peoples on the map. At first I kept all the marking text from the other map, but it made things too busy. Looking at this now, my color choices are pretty appalling. Anyway, these two should provide the players some reference points.

When I sent it to them, I gave them this overview:
Here's the map with the largest organized political/national/cultural areas marked out. Keep in mind these are rough, and represent more the furthest extent of power for each of these groups- i.e. where the frontier or border posts and fleets can be spotted. The vast waters and endless seas make exerting power or control much more difficult, so borders are diffuse. Most of these are linked more by racial, cultural, or trade ties. The rest of the world is populated, but not really organized into groups larger than linked islands or allied city-states. The death of 80% of humanity less than a century ago left many, many places emptied and abandoned. Devastated peoples more often died off in a generation or moved to join together with other groups. It also encourages a much higher degree of inter-species trading and co-existence.

The two major human "dominated" areas are the Houses of Titan and the Frost Currents. The Sheten Consortium's the most multi-cultural. The White Hound Horde is the gathering of various barbarians and disorganized violent peoples under the flag of Chu Chuliann.

One of my design goals with the map was to paint in a few details, but keep things open. For example, I’m not marking out every island. I imagine in some places they’re dense conglomerations, while in others loose. Beyond that we still have large segments of open water. I’m picturing the visible islands on this map either being of significant size or showing an area filled with more islands. I’ve also avoided distances, keeping that relative. Someone on G+ asked me about prevailing winds and currents. I’m not going to mark those out. Instead, they’ll appear as necessary to shape travel times in my games. (i.e. “the Spicewine Wind comes through, through there, making that route faster” or “The Blackwater Current means travel will likely be much longer.”). I imagine that for any trip, the players will have at least two options: stay closer to islands and shores (safer, but longer travel) or hit open waters (faster, but more risky).

I also hunted through various “Sea” sourcebooks for other RPGs- Stormwrack, The Book of the Sea, Citybook II: Port o’ Call, etc. Some had more interesting ideas than others. Mostly I wanted a rough list of features I might throw in. From that came many of the new names and labels I dropped on the map. Do I know exactly what they are? Sort of. Part of the joy of playing will be figuring that out over time. A few things I did decide that I’m particularly happy with.
  • The players came up with giant sea-turtles (and other beasts) with rich farmlands on their backs. I think there are two kinds of massive sea turtle farms. The first, domesticated ones, remain close by particular islands. They're usually smaller and some suggest they're actually younger. The second are Wild Sea Turtle farms, usually claimed by a family or a tribe. There's a loose community among those farmers. Wild Sea Turtles migrate between two regions, the Highyear Seafields and the Lowyear Seafields. The Icon of Magic, Grandfather Turtle moves with these, so he can be found among them- and his rough position can be determined from the time of the year.
  • The six larger islands are somewhere between the size of England (244K sq. km) and Japan (378K sq. km). Malatesta is an island of giants- all the various kinds I imagine, organized into clans. They don’t usually sail out. Perhaps some of the small ones might. But I also think there’s a sub-culture of peoples living and surviving there. In caves maybe or literally underground? Perhaps ivory-skinned Drow-like humans? I don’t know. Did the giants come in there and wreck an existing civilization or did they always live there? Not sure yet.
  • The Hellforge range has a larger than usually number of volcanoes. The Iceclad Sea is often frozen. The Unfrozen Sea is super, weirdly cold. Things freeze on contact with it. The water itself ought to freeze but doesn’t. The Spike’s a giant mountain spire reaching out of the waters almost to the sky. The Bowl’s a weird depression in the sea that ships can fall into. There’s more…
  • The Titan holding up the sky is at the center of the world. It can be seen outdoors from anywhere in the world. That doesn’t entirely make sense vanishing point-wise, but “Magic”. Navigators calculate position and distance based on the Titan: what they see of him relative to the sky, sun, and stars- how large he appears. The Titan’s breath regulates the tides. I don’t know exactly how that works. When the Titan was injured and shifted, the tides went wild and seafarers took years to refix the navigation logs.

I’m loosey-goosey, but some of my players aren’t. From a conversation with one of them.

CARL: The elves bypassed the Orc’s naval defenses (Fathrist invaded Gharne).  Looked again saw the “Leviathan’s wake” marking.  BTW, I am thinking the ocean is vastly deeper than Earth’s (7-10 miles max) so like 25 miles average, which would allow for monstrous creatures like Titan Sharks.  I see Orc’s being transported inside the Shark’s mouth and 1,000-10,000 troops coming out (the ultimate beach assault).
BTW, quick demography, world population on earth during Middle Ages was 400 million.  Assume w/ 2/3 of the world is ocean.  If 90% is ocean we can estimate that at Titan world would have 120 million, then 80% die, so 24 million left 100 years ago.  My model says (yes I am a goober) that 1.3% growth is a good estimate
So 1.3% growth for 100 years = 87 million people presently
A large army in medieval times is 30,000 based on a pop of 400 million, so a large army in Titan would be (87/400 = 0.21) so 6500 would be comparable.  I looked up Alexander the Great’s army and it was supposed to be 150,000 max but only about 32,000 were fighting men.
I figured this would give us a better idea how individual characters would affect the whole world.

ME: I'd actually cut that population number down. The world's smaller than our Earth, and the carrying capacity of the land is likely much tighter (island vs. standard arable agriculture). I'd say you'd want to cut that world number down to maybe 75 million and kill off from there. However, keep in mind that the 80% death rate is only among humans (which until that time had been the majority race by far).

CARL: Sounds good, I was just doing Order of Magnitude effects so call it
75 m 100 years ago
Assume 90% (?) humans
So 13.5 m humans left (64%), 7.5 non humans (21 m total)
Grow a@ 1.3% for 100 years
= 49 m humans, 27 m non-humans, total = 76 m total
Large army is 5700 people

ME: You are the master of crunchy bits.

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