Monday, January 4, 2010

More on Tolkien's Legacy

James at Grognardia has written an interesting post on the professor's legacy here. I would add is that given enough time, enough campaigns, a setting will wind up looking like Middle Earth in terms of organization and detail.

While Middle Earth was never roleplayed by Tolkien, he built Middle Earth piece by piece starting with a few notes on a language and a tale before World War I. The process is detailed in the History of Middle Earth series complied by his son Christopher.

Blackmoor and Greyhawk (the original version) were likewise built up the same way. Starting with a castle and a dungeon the world grew around them piece by piece.

It seems that the best settings are those that grow in this fashion rather than spring full flower from an author's mind. I am still trying to figure out the best way to help people jump start this process without having to go through 30 years of campaigning.

6 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

I've always started out with small area, say a Barony or something as small as a village detailed and a rough scetch of a map and guidelines of the surrounding area. This way if the campaign develops there is a consistancy.

Word Verification is Suckiest. Hmm, that seems rude.

1d30 said...

I would say if you want it to grow organically, have a "virtual playtest" (equivalent to a "thought experiment") to expand the setting.

I might start with a large ruined town with a castle nearby, and a village of people trying to resettle the area.

Then we need to ask where they get their food. So we place some farms nearby.

Where do they get immigrants from? We place a trade route out through a mountain pass to a medium sized frontier town at the confluence of a couple rivers.

Where do they get timber? Let's put forests around the ruined city and the frontier town.

Where do they get stone? Let's add a quarry in the mountains.

Where do they get metal? A mine in the mountains looks good to me.

Now the river has to come from a glacier or else it drains a large swath of land. Let's pick both. Extend the river upland through hills and then mountains, adding a glacier at the top.

The river has to extend downhill, too, so let's do that and let the forest give way to plains.

Maybe a river delta where it pours into the ocean, which is a nice place for either a really bit city or a broad scattering of small villages. I'd like the latter, for a change of pace. Lots of farming here.

Add inns and small villages along the way upriver and along the coast. Probably another inn in the mountain pass.

Back to the ruin and the castle, remember that the city used to need water. So let's add an aqueduct going to the mountains where it feeds off a spring there. Maybe it's damaged and the water doesn't reach the city anymore.

At this point it looks good to me. Continue asking the question "what does this place need" to expand on the needs of the ruined city / castle and of the civilization of the river delta.

stirgessuck said...

When you say they'll be similar to Middle Earth in organization, what do you mean by that?

Rob Conley said...

Kings list, timelines, some regions very details with a broad overview of everything else

Wickedmurph said...

I don't think you can jump start the process. It's a function of the amount of time spent thinking about and developing a world or setting. Tolkien took years, and several campaigns (and associated thinking) will do something similar. But it's not a process that's possible to short-cut, I think (and I've been at it for 20 years).

stirgessuck said...

I dunno; I think I could probably get through 30 years of a campaign without ever knowing who was king 500 years ago.

But on the topic of generating this sort of content:

Principles, not details.