Before I sat down today to work on Crognar’s Rock I had to think about my childhood. When I was a child, I built. I wanted to become an Inventor. That’s was my main focus. I didn’t really know what it meant. Nor could I grasp the full concept of it. The only thing clear was to make things! Creativity was one part of that. I played a lot with lego, so inventing was early given.
Years went by and I was growing into a teen. Then it hit me. I could combine my love for games with my inventive nature. Game-Design! The obvious choice, right? As it turned out, yes and no. I could have never guessed that it would revolve around tabletop games. Trying to convince myself that video games are the only games. Struggling a lot with effort and focus for something that was ultimately not that interesting for me. But there was one thing that held true over that period of failed studies. And that was tabletop.
Actually, I’ve been thinking and working on my own games for years. Just never realised that board games and tabletop RPGs are games as well.
With Corgnar’s Rock, I want to tell the creative souls that their ideas have value. In the last few posts, we did a couple of things to prove that. First, we looked at our vision: “what do we see when we think of a game campaign?”. Second, we defined our vision: “What is our campaign and what is it not?”. And third, we mapped it out: “How does our campaign look like on a map?”.
These questions guided us to the point of breathing life slowly into our world. At the same time, giving you the confidence of not comparing your world to others. The flashy worlds, made by pros are a great inspiration. The look and the feel, everything about it is highly inspirational. But, where is the creator? With creator, I mean you.
The more I work on Crognar’s Rock, the more I see how inspiration plays only partially a role. The more critical role is to empower the creator, past the inspiration. Especially those who feel a little overwhelmed by world building as a task. GMing is a beautiful thing and creating worlds even more so. So, How do we start? How do we breathe life into our world?
Breathing life into Crognar’s Rock
Previously, we have been focussing on the static aspects of our continent. How does it look like? What is it shaped like? Questions that can be answered with a sketch or two and a google research. We did just that.
When looking through the map, I made a sudden realisation. As previously mentioned, I don’t have a scanner. I can’t really copy the world and edit it flawlessly as I would want to. Funnily, this might prove to be one of our biggest advantages when creating Crognar’s Rock.
What do I mean with that? I support the claim, that a living breathing world has to be built on nature’s whim. Rock formations, forests, mountains and seas are formed by the forces of nature. In this sense, we are taking the role of nature. Sounds a bit convoluted, so let me summarise: The moment we’re not scared anymore to make mistakes, even on our master map, we can start growing the campaign.
An important step in doing this is to erase command and enable choice. Honestly, I’ve been hesitant on drawing onto my map in its current state. I don’t know how to make it look good. That fear is guiding to other questions that serve no other purpose than making me insecure. Let’s embrace that. Using that to our advantage.
A breathing world is not a perfect world. It’s a world that copes with its struggles. I can’t imagine a more volatile setting than a jungle! Luckily, Crognar’s Rock is that and a little bit more.
The jungle is a place heavily vegetated by trees. Dominated by trees even. Remember the old adventure stories with the first people travelling to great jungles. Discovering what was known only to tribal civilisation if at all. The jungle setting also means that there are a lot of animals: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and monsters.
All of them inhabit the dangerous and dense jungles. Another aspect is, the play between jungle, mountain and other forest types as well as farmlands. Especially relevant for placing civilisation onto Crognar’s Rock. But first of all, we need to define what the general flora looks like. Is it just a jungle? How the vegetation interacts with each other gives us clues to how the fauna will interact with the environment.
I recommend reading through articles that explain your setting in scientific terms. Again, it’s not about writing a scientific report. More importantly, it’s just about learning a bit of background to fuel our inspiration.
This is what Wikipedia says about the jungle. The most important takeaway for me are the following keywords:
- tropical forest
- numerous vegetation and land types
- overgrown and impenetrable
- as a metaphor for lawlessness and survival of the fittest
This sounds a lot like an extension of our vision. Actually, it is. Define the fauna for your own campaign. It will surely drive your vision into a more concrete description. We take that given information and put it to test.
“Crognar’s Rock is a peninsula dominated by thick jungles. Mystery shrouds the depth of these fast forests. Nobody sets foot into those jungles comes back. Though, the dangers and promise of hidden treasures lure in many adventures.”
Let this sink in for a moment. We foreshadow already a possible hook for our campaign. Let’ just leave it at that, for now.
First, we defined the coarse outline of our flora. Furthermore, even built a possible hook. Seems like a good setting to run with it, right? It might be. For now, it just seems a little bit too empty.
What’s missing is the balance between inhabitable land and forest. I want Crognar’s Rock to be civilisation friendly. In addition to that, I want my players to experience different regions and not just jungle all the time. The jungle is a great base but the real magic happens in interaction. Cities will come soon. First, we need to build a more concrete understanding of the surrounding land. In order to do that, I draw the final colours onto the map. Followed by the definition of the landmasses we see.
I decided to define dark green as jungle and light green as forest. The mountains are the little spikes, obviously, and the brown on the map is generic land. This will come in handy when we start drawing in the cities and roads. The yellow patch of land at the bottm right is a desert. I find it intriguing to have a sort of desertification going on. This could alternatively be used as a savannah, instead.
After finishing this step, we get a broad idea about plants and land structure. If you like, you can already start naming parts of your map. Feel free to name intricate landmasses as you see fit. I came up with: High Trees, the jungle with weirdly tall trees; Howling Valley, in the middle of the map enclosed by the ring like mountain formation; and, the actual Crognar’s Rock which is the compared a much smaller mountain formation below the Howling Valley.
Either you already had a picture of animals in your head or you have it now. I don’t only mean tigers or elephnats but dragons and gnoll. Monsters are at times just as much animals as, well, animals. Choosing the fauna for our continent we have basically the same situation as with the flora. The only difference is, that we can cherry-pick how we want to populate our jungles and forests.
The Wiki article about jungle, told us that the variety of fauna in a jungle is highly versatile. What a great oportunity to come up with arbitrary pseudo-scientific explanations why mountain trolls live in the jungle.
I’ve been thinking for quite a while about how to tackle this task. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a comprehensive approach of how to add fauna to a map. But I came up with something more flexible. Instead of defining what animals and monsters live where, we define our map into sections. Crognar’s Rock can be seperated into about nine sections.
After defining those sections we ask ourselves what kind of animals we want to migrate to those sections. At this point, it’s not so important what you choose, only how you optimize it. If you like the idea of mountain-trolls migrating to the jungle because of reasons, you have already one optimized point. This point is also a great anchor for tribal encounters within the jungle. And respectively pretty much everywhere.
For example, I’d love to have a ruined castle at the mountain top above the Howling Valley, surrounded by drakes and seemingly guarding it. Since drakes fly around those mountains you can ask yourself questions like “what kind of animals can live there if the proportion of drakes is quite high around the castle?”. With questions like that you create logic on your map. Separating that logic into sections you create ecosystems. Let them interact for some very interesting scenarios and hooks.
This drives us to specify our Fauna. The map shows us the structure. The defined flora teaches us what is possible. Now we migrate animals into our sections. I found it to be very helpful to create a little random table to show how high the chance is to meet exotic or dangerous animals while traversing the section.
To elaborate. The nine section of Crognar’s Rock are have some animals that you’ll meet throughout. Namely, cats, dogs, reptiles, generic insects and larger animals like for example cows. The random table we create show us how rare it is to find a tiger in the midst of a jungle. This will be helpful when we define the civilisation and dangerous places.
The table shown, tells us that between the sections there are animals or wild monsters that are either frequent or infrequent for encounter. You can even add the chance of encounter from adjacent sections. For example, an elephant native to section 5 can get off track and be found in section 6.
Another thing. Sections are not regions. Regional specifics will be included once we get to civilisation. Sections only give us a general flavour of the animals we might encounter, next to the animals we will encounter throughout the land.
We covered a lot of topics today. Flora and fauna are quite sepcific and take a little while to navigate efficiently. You maybe even notice, that it’s getting a little bit tougher than just coming up with a vision. Now we have to put in the work to make our campaign grow. This means to fill out tables and defining our campaign by some sort of structure.
That’s exactly what we did today. First, reading a bit about, in our case jungle, style. Defining the flora by drawing and defining it in our map. We even added some regional names. Clearing out how our map looks we understand better what we want to put in it. Actually, you could even go that far to name some trees and plants native to your continent.
The fauna was a bit more tricky. Defining what general animals we want to see and then sectioning the map. By doing that, we created ourself a chart with a sort-of random table for animal encounters. Natural occuring monsters are jsut as important. Especially if they don’t originally belong to a jungle. It’s all about specialisation and migration. Also, at this point we apply the ideas we have onto the map. Remember the ruined castle surrounded by drakes? That’s getting slowly into civilisation terettory.
Today we effectively built an ecosystem. We breathe a little bit of life into our campaign. This will serve us when defining the civilisation living on Crognar’s Rock.
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