Design Considerations

It’s time to get started on creating some maps. First and foremost, I need a map of the area in which my characters will start out in. Before I just start drawing, I want to come up with a list of requirements for the map to make sure it will suit my purposes.

  • Characters will start out at level one and I want the starting area to support adventuring through level ten.
  • The area should be surrounded by a boundary that will keep characters from heading off into areas that I don’t have mapped and prepared yet. This also serves as an explanation as to why there are no higher level monsters around.
  • There should be a fair sized city surrounded by a number of small villages connected by roads and most of them should be spaced a day’s ride apart from each other.
  • Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes and Hobbits should each have a presence in the area. Each should be fairly isolated and a good distance from each other.
  • The “civilized” area should be relatively free of monsters. Encounter level should increase gradually as you move out into the wilderness.
  • As many terrain types should be used as is reasonable.
  • I want a number of dungeons of varying level. One should be in a swamp. Another in deep forest. A third in mountains. Others as needed.

Let’s Make It An Island!

That should do for a start. After reviewing the requirements and drawing some test maps I hit on the idea of using an island. Or more properly, a group of islands. This deals nicely with the requirement that the starting area have boundaries. Nothing makes a better boundary than an ocean.

This has an added bonus for me. My players are scared to death of setting foot on a boat. They seem convinced that as soon as they do, they will be beset by giant sea monsters. This fear has meant that certain settings and encounters are completely unusable.

By starting them on a small group of islands, they will need to undertake frequent short voyages between islands and then at some point a longer trip to the mainland. If, in the process, I can break this fear of the sea, a number of adventuring options open up.

Here’s My Initial Drawing

This is a quick hand drawing of the main island. It’s roughly 250 x 300 miles across. There is a walled city with a sea port at the northern edge of the central bay. At either entrance to the bay is a watch tower. Both towers are adjacent to small fishing villages. immediately to the north and west of the northern tower is a Hobbit community. Two to three days north of that is a mountain range with a clan of Dwarves in the western portion and a population of Gnomes in the eastern portion. North and West of the mountains is wild country. There are a few coastal villages South and East of the mountains.

The upper third of the island, except for the wild country beyond the mountains, is fairly tame. There is a dungeon in the mountains that would be good for low level characters. As you move south, past the central area of the island, you approach a large forest. There are two fortresses, one near either coast at the northern fringe of the forest. The northern portion of the forest is also home to a large community of Elves. The entire remainder of that third of the island is over-run with monsters. There is known to be a dungeon hidden somewhere in the forest. Orc clans occupy some of the coastal areas but far worse than Orcs live in the mountains.

The final third of the island is rimmed with mountains and inaccessible from the sea. These mountains keep the rain from returning to the sea resulting in a large lake surrounded my marshlands. there is a temple deep in the swamp used by Lizardmen to make sacrifices to their god. There are also rumors of other vile things living in the swamp.

What’s Next

That should account for all the requirements. The next step is to go to Campaign Cartographer and make a proper map along with some detail maps of certain areas. Then it’s off to Dungeon Designer to create the dungeons.

I will also need details on the city, the villages, the various humanoid communities, the dungeons, and the monster populations in general. The map is just a small part but it’s definitely the most exciting.