Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

A year of Godsbarrow worldbuilding

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Today marks a year since I started working on Godsbarrow. It’s been a consistently fun process, and even when I’ve banked my creative fires I’ve still done something to make forward progress every single day.

You can find links to all of my Godsbarrow work, loosely organized, on the Godsbarrow handbook page.

Here’s my first Godsbarrow map:

My first map of the Unlucky Isles, done in Worldographer on March 17, 2021

Still a work in progress (as I’m re-drawing four regional maps, adding a fifth, and unifying them all at once), but here’s the map covering everything I’ve developed over the past year:

The current WIP five-region map as of today

It’s safe to say that without Worlds Without Number [paid link] and Wonderdraft, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far as I have this past year — nor had nearly as much fun.

Assuming I don’t forget to do some Godsbarrow work tomorrow, here’s to day 366 of my worldbuilding streak!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

WIP: Turning five maps into one

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

While I’m creating Godsbarrow region by region, in “tiles” which are more or less square, I’ve also been stitching those tiles together into a larger map. As you can see on that map, it’s full of small and medium problems as a result of this rough-and-ready approach: almost nothing along the tile boundaries lines up perfectly, country names appear several times, roads begin or end at random because I forgot I had a road there on the neighboring regional map, etc.

The “let’s stitch these five maps together” map

And that’s fine! My main goal has been to safeguard my creative energy and preserve my forward momentum, and given that today is just 10 days shy of a year of daily work on Godsbarrow, that approach has been successful.

But I’ve always known there would need to be a cartographic reckoning, and I’ve kind of dreaded how much work it might involve. It hit me this morning that there would be more work if I continued working on the Middenglum map as its own entity, rather than slotting it into the multi-region poster map and finishing it there.

So I did a bit of poking around, found a Reddit post about copying and pasting landmasses, and gave that a shot. Wonderdraft’s polygonal lasso tool allows you to copy a landform on one map file and paste it into another map file, and it preserves any colors you’ve applied to the source landmass.

About 15-20 minutes later, I had this:

The starting point for my finished poster map of Kurthunar, the Unlucky Isles, the Gilded Lands, Middenglum, and the Ice Courts

There’s still lots of work to do, but this approach saved me at least a few hours of painstakingly tracing coastlines. It also affords me a fourfold opportunity, one element of which came as a surprise:

  1. Fix all the issues created by making these maps individually
  2. Settle on a scale
  3. Decide if I still like my mapmaking style
  4. Tweak the landmasses

#1 is covered in this post. #2 is sort of an offshoot of #1, but involves less work. I initially chose a scale that seemed too small, then too large, and then stopped thinking about it and just kept making maps. For a finished poster map, I need a scale. In terms of my mapmaking style, #3, I still like it. I’m obviously not a professional cartographer, but if I bought a book with one of my maps in it I wouldn’t be sad.

Item #4 is what surprised me. Seeing the landmasses with no symbols or labels makes it so clear that I created this map as four squares and a rectangle, and highlights how I got better about making it look more natural and organic later on. The earlier top half, especially my first region, the Unlucky Isles, looks more “squared off” than the bottom half.

There’s nothing sacred about my maps at this stage. Godsbarrow is a world still in development, and I’ve certainly come up with stuff in the past couple months that needs to be taken into account in the write-ups for earlier regions.

Take the Red Flag pirates of Middenglum, for example. Warriors from Kuruni, always looking for a way to prove themselves, would absolutely be raiding the pirate isles of Go Quietly Strait. And the Brundiri navy, despite having its hands full in the Unlucky Isles, needs to patrol the southern Alpan Sea to keep those same pirates at bay. But when I created Brundir and Kuruni, Middenglum and the Red Flag pirates didn’t exist.

That’s Future Martin’s problem, and it’s one I’ve known about from day one. I love the raw fire of creation, just Naruto-running through region after region and keeping that fire stoked — and I know that if I’d started with a blank version of this six-tile poster map, 1) I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far, and 2) even if I did maintain my momentum, it would have felt boring and same-y compared to the weird, vibrant stew of ideas that has emerged by doing it one region at a time.

For the second poster map, once Middenglum is done and I’ve polished the current poster map, I probably will start with a larger blank canvas and fill it in one region at a time. I have a year of experience following the Worlds Without Number approach, and a year of work upon which to build, and I think I can thread the needle of staying loose and creative while also avoiding the need to redo another giant map in 2023.

Updated later in the day to add: Even with the landmasses, water, and colors in place, redrawing all the symbols and paths is slow going. I’ve spent about four hours on this today, and I’ve got all the settlements and roads and about a third of the mountains/hills done.

I believe it’s possible to copy all the symbols on one map and paste them onto another, but only as a sort of “flattened” single image which cannot be edited. While redrawing everything is certainly slower, it also gives me the opportunity to tweak as I go (e.g., I said southern Ahlsheyan was more settled, but didn’t actually have that many towns; let’s add a few).

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Roughing in Middenglum, my fifth Godsbarrow region

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

After wrapping up my fourth region, the Ice Courts, I wasn’t sure what to work on next. I slept on it and decided to fill in the blank tile on my poster-size map.

Growing up on TSR box sets, with their gorgeous rectangular poster maps, I couldn’t resist the urge to finish out a map that shape of my own. So I started my next write-up, fired up Wonderdraft, created an all-water tile to work with, and started roughing things in.

Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“me dayne geeng”), which means “land of no opportunities” in Ahl. Despite its inviting protected bays, the whole area is so inhospitable and resource-poor than the early Ahl wanted nothing to do with it, and that has largely held true to the present day. Over time, Mē Dān Gēŋ became “Middenglum,” a dreary place full of society’s dregs and cast-offs. Bandits, pirates, fugitives, and scoundrels of all stripes wash up in Middenglum.

Middenglum as of February 19, 2022

It took me a few days to get the landmasses and their coastlines right, and my initial concept of Middenglum evolved along with them — which is one of my favorite things about this type of lonely fun. Once I knew I was filling in my poster map, I looked at all of my favorite fantasy stuff and saw that most of it was on that map: dwarves, gnomes, mushroom people, werewolves, wintery places, sword and sorcery weirdness, non-Tolkien elves, and plenty of squabbling nations, intrigue, and skullduggery.

But one thing was missing: slimes. I adore D&D-style oozes, slimes, gelatinous cubes (my favorite D&D monster), molds, and the like.

So Middenglum is the birthplace and homeland of the null slimes, a species of sentient, psychic oozes who most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Longtime readers may remember null slimes from Bleakstone, the fantasy setting I started developing here on Yore some years back. Like other elements of Bleakstone, they’re an idea I quite like that needs a little refinement. With a few tweaks, they’ll fit right into Godsbarrow.

The map will probably change (I like the strong Mordor energy of those mountains, but right now they look a bit too engineered), and the regional overview still isn’t in its final form — but Middenglum is well underway.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Godsbarrow: Why not create a world map first?

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Writing yesterday’s post about banked fires and leaving countries partially unmapped made me realize how much I’ve thought about this stuff over the past several months, and how non-obvious some of it might be to anyone outside my personal flesh-prison.

I’m sort of mapping Godsbarrow the least efficient way possible . . . but stitching together my big map is proof that, for me, the dumb way that creates extra work in the future is the key to my success.

Why not start by mapping the continents?

I see gorgeous continent-level maps all the time on r/Wonderdraft. And it makes sense: Look how many things in the map below I will need to fix in order to turn X regional maps (the “tiles”) into a unified pan-regional map that spans a large chunk of Godsbarrow, none of which I’d have to fix if I’d started with a larger canvas.

Future Martin is not going to thank Past Martin for the extra work required to correct every boundary on this map

Hell, even if I’d stayed at the regional scale (rather than continent scale) but started with a six-tile blank map in Wonderdraft, filled it with ocean texture, and then added landmasses one region at a time, I’d wind up with a finished map that had none of the technical issues present in the map I currently have. But I know me: That blank space would have overwhelmed me, made this feel like work, and probably torpedoed the whole venture.

Every boundary, every thing I develop, is a constraint. Starting with continents establishes a whole bunch of boundaries right off the bat. Starting without even thinking about continents leaves all that stuff where it belongs, for now: nonexistent or purely notional.

Why? Three reasons.

Because WWN says so

Worlds Without Number [paid link] advocates strongly for not building stuff you don’t need, and I agree. More than three decades of gaming, including several abortive attempts at creating campaign settings which began, full of excitement, with me creating world maps, has taught me that I virtually never need to know about continents at the gaming table.

Is it nice to know what the Forgotten Realms looks like at a world map level? Absolutely. And maybe in a published setting with the scope of the Realms, I’d expect that. (Here, as a WIP on a blog, I absolutely don’t expect that.)

But in actual play, have I ever needed to know what the continents look like, or what the whole of Faerûn looks like? Nope. Not even once.

Which flows into…

Conversation of time and creative energy

I’m one guy, doing this for fun, not getting paid for it, with a finite amount of free time and creative energy, and spending those resources worldbuilding means I have less time and energy to spend on other things — including the more gameable aspects of worldbuilding.

If I spend a bunch of time and creative energy on a world map of Godsbarrow that I don’t even need, I might burn out. Even if I don’t burn out, I will have spent those resources making something I don’t actually need and placing constraints on my future worldbuilding.

Which flows into…

Because whimsical, improvisational worldbuilding is more fun for me

I’m not here to police anyone’s “lonely fun.” I upvote those gorgeous continent maps on r/Wonderdraft, and I love that folks are making cool shit even — especially — if it’s not how I might have made it. As my wife often says, with genuine affection, “You do you, Boo-Boo.

But personally I find it much more freeing, and more fun, to develop a Godsbarrow region without any real idea what’s next door. When I step back for a minute, as I did when stitching together that large map above, I see a developing setting that I never would have come up with this way if I’d sketched out all the coastlines for the large map at once.

Toriyama Akira and the art of improvisational creation

This connects nicely to having just finished watching Dragon Ball and started Dragon Ball Z. I was curious how much of Z Toriyama Akira had planned when he was working on Dragon Ball, and apparently the answer is “none of it, or at least not much of it, especially early on.” He was just doing what interested him, following his heart and seeing where it led him, and the end product — Dragon Ball — is full of whimsy and surprises and strange turns it likely never would have been full of if he’d mapped it out from the beginning.

Circling back to Godsbarrow, if I’d written up the Unlucky Isles knowing that a slug-god-kaiju was crushing mountains to the west (in Kurthunar) and the region to the south was locked in perpetual winter and populated by, among others, courtly werewolves and mushroom pirates, I would have written it differently. For one thing, I’d have had to hold a lot more ideas in my head while writing it. For another, I’d have worried about conceptually mapping out all of the nations’ relationships with places further away, which likely would have made me lose interest.

If I synthesize all of my regional write-ups into a unified document, will I need to add and tweak some things? You bet. Just like my stitched-up map, what came later would necessarily prompt a gentle rearrangement of what came before.

But as a price to pay for capturing the original raw spirit of Godsbarrow, channeling that into the Unlucky Isles, stoking the fires of creation and diving in while they burned brightly, and creating something that I still want to continue developing eight months later, that is a vanishingly small price indeed.

TL;DR: Start small. Which is, like, the oldest RPG worldbuilding advice ever. This post explains why I started small, and why, eight months after starting work on Godsbarrow, I still love this approach despite the imperfections it introduces into the process and the WIP version of Godsbarrow.

See also: Yore

A lot of what I’ve said here also goes for Yore itself. This blog will be celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, on August 28th.

I’ve been blogging since 2005, and Yore is my third RPG blog. I ran Treasure Tables (still archived on Gnome Stew) from 2005-2007, and ran and contributed to Gnome Stew from 2008-2016. I may have my math off a bit, but I believe I wrote 871 posts on TT and 453 on GS.

So not only does my post count here — 463 as of this one — exceed my count on the Stew, even prior to the actual 10th anniversary I’ve already posted on Yore for longer than either of my previous blogs. Yore is the one where I just do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, whether or not that’s an efficient way to build an audience (it’s not), get pageviews (it’s not), create a brand (it’s not), make money (it’s not), or stay relevant in the RPG hobby as a whole (it’s not).

In other words, philosophically Yore is pretty similar to Godsbarrow. I loved blogging on Treasure Tables and Gnome Stew, and look back fondly on those years. But part of the reason I’m still blogging here, nearly 10 years on (and well past the heyday of blogs’ relevance in the hobby), is because here is the place I just do my thing. Or don’t do it. Or shift gears and do new things.

I know folks out there have gotten good mileage out of stuff I’ve posted here, and that brings me joy. I hope it continues to be the case. In the meantime, I’ll just keep puttering away and doing my thing.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
B/X D&D Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Godsbarrow map: the first four regions (plus noodling on banked fires)

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

I never get the roads, rivers, etc. on the “tile” boundaries quite right, but nonetheless I get a thrill out of seeing Godsbarrow start to come together as each region is added to the larger map.

Here’s a (clumsily) stitched-together map showing the first four regions: the Unlucky Isles (where I started, top center), the Gilded Lands (top right, my second region), Kurthunar (top left, third), and the Ice Courts (bottom, number four).

The current state of Godsbarrow, created in Wonderdraft and stitched together in MS Paint

Despite all the details that would need to be tidied up as part of turning this into a finished map (mainly boundaries, but also finalizing scales and adjusting labels to suit the zoomed-out format), this map makes me happy. Godsbarrow feels like My Place in a way it wouldn’t without this map, and if you decide to play a game there I hope it will also feel like Your Place.

This is where I started, around March 2021 (in Worldographer):

My original landmass outlines for the Unlucky Isles

I’ll go where my muse and mood take me, but the logical next stop after finishing my regional write-up for the Ice Courts would be to fill in the bottom leftmost map section. Six of my tiles, arranged thusly, is not coincidentally about the same shape as a map from the old Forgotten Realms boxed set.

I adore that set and to this day hold it up as one of, if not the, best examples of a published campaign setting designed for actual play (rather than GM wankery). Capturing some of the feel, the energy, the excitement I got (and still get) from opening that box, unfurling the maps, reading the marvelously concise and flavorful books, and playing in that version of the Realms is a core design goal for Godsbarrow.

After that, I’ve been thinking of another double-width map above the Isles and Gilded Lands, or maybe even a triple that also includes Kuruni.

Visually, that would center the Unlucky Isles as the heart of the developed portion of Godsbarrow (which, from a campaign setting creation standpoint, it is). With three tiles across the top and the ninth in the bottom left filled in, I’d also have mapped out all/most of the Arkestran Dominion, all of Kadavis, and all (probably?) of Ahlsheyan, and I’d have around a dozen countries developed at the regional level.

I like leaving unfinished nations on the map, places that need another tile to complete them. It helps the setting feel real and gives me an easy hook for future mapmaking and development.

Philosophical navel-gazing and hobby streaks

There are lots of things about worldbuilding that are philosophical in nature (like leaving countries half-unmapped). I’ve slowed way down on worldbuilding in the past few months, as I have with painting miniatures (though for somewhat different reasons), but I write at least a sentence, or make progress on a map, every day. And that snail’s pace is still producing more worldbuilding than I’ve done in decades, including much, much more cartography than I’ve ever done before.

I sum this approach up as “Something > nothing” or “Any progress beats no progress.” My interests and hobbies are like little fires, each in its own little hearth. Sometimes one fire is raging, and the others die down. In the past, I’ve let fires die out rather than banking them so that they stay alive; using hobby streaks as a motivational tool is as deliberate departure from that approach. I bank some of the fires, ensuring they don’t go out and that they’re on my radar (man am I mixing metaphors here), and let others go out entirely.

Right now I’m banking my worldbuilding fire, making a little forward progress every day, and tending to other fires that are burning hotter: watching more anime, reading more manga, and playing more Halo Infinite and Jedi: Fallen Order. And that’s okay! When those tail off, another interest or two will flare up.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

My second region of Godsbarrow: the Gilded Lands

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Today I wrapped up my second region of Godsbarrow, the fantasy campaign setting I started working on earlier this year: the Gilded Lands, situated just to the east of my first region, the Unlucky Isles.

The Gilded Lands

The Gilded Lands are anchored by Kadavis, the largest and wealthiest of the six nations that comprise this region. With its obsession with ostentatious displays of wealth and status, the near-universal cultural practice of wearing elaborate masks, and the magic-rich blight of Nus Palavar, the haunted graveyard of Kadavis’ small gods, decadent Kadavis has a swords and sorcery vibe to it.

The other nations of the Gilded Lands are quite different. Garshán is a land of gnomish traders who prize efficiency in all things. Many Sou gnomes also make their home here (albeit temporarily). In the south, expansionist Lonþyr plunders the Mormú-Hús Mountains and fights with its neighbor, Yrfeđe — once part of the same country. Yrfeđe is a dark place with a bit of a Norse vibe, defined by the predations of the seemingly unstoppable đargnr — the “sleeping shadows,” who emerge from the woods at night to feast.

Kostivolsk, a sinister halfling theocracy, keeps the đargnr on the other side of the border by sacrificing their own people to their oppressive deity, Xlě̀-Ceth. Centuries ago, the church began a ritual that has continued, unbroken, to the present day: Kosti dance or chant without cessation, until they drop dead. That endless sacrifice pays their god to shield Kostivolsk from the đargnr.

And at the center of it all is Mormú, the greatly diminished homeland of the Grshniki gnomes, and the source of much of the region’s wealth — most of which has been plundered by its neighbors. A pale shadow of its former glory, Mormú is divided over whether to give up and be absorbed by another nation, or continue their ceaseless guerilla war against the larger powers that they’ve waged for centuries.

Mapping and developing the Gilded Lands

This time around, I played a little looser with the Worlds Without Number steps — and having already done a whole series of step-by-step blog posts about creating the Unlucky Isles, I didn’t repeat that part of the process.

For the Gilded Lands, I started with the map. At any given stage of the WWN development process, my map was typically a step or two ahead. This was a fun approach, and it felt more organic. Whenever I was in the mood to draw, I worked on the map; when I wanted to write, I wrote.

I still consider the Unlucky Isles to be the default starting location for a Godsbarrow campaign (if there were ever to be a Godsbarrow campaign!), so I won’t be zooming in to detail out a smaller section of the Gilded Lands map just now. (For the Isles, I zoomed in on Sanχu, a province in Brundir.)

Here are the Gilded Lands and the Unlucky Isles together on one map (sorry about the seam!).

Two regions of Godsbarrow, the Unlucky Isles and the Gilded Lands

I did my best to get my two maps to line up, but from Wonderdraft’s perspective I’m doing this all backwards; I should be creating a continent-level map and then using the software to zoom in on regions. But I prefer this approach, where I’m letting my ideas flow and not hemming anything in about what’s outside my immediate area of focus.

For example, wanting to know more about Kadavis — which is on the eastern edge of the Unlucky Isles map — is what prompted me to work on the Gilded Lands. Feeling like there should be a big east-west “spray” of mountains in the Gilded Lands, and just going for it, is what gave rise to my favorite nation in that region: Mormú, the besieged, greatly diminished, fractious kingdom of the Grshniki gnomes, beset on all sides by hostile powers.

I’ve got a full region worth of write-ups to proofread and turn into blog posts — and while I work on that, I also need to get rolling on a third region! As with the Isles, the Gilded Lands feature multiple countries that extend off the regional map. These serve as anchors for adjacent maps, like Kadavis did for this one, and “seed the ground” for future development.

I don’t know where I’m headed next. After writing about the Gilded Lands a little bit every day for the past 10 weeks or so, my instinct is to shift my focus elsewhere — maybe explore Ahlsheyan and points south, or go north and figure out what’s going on around (and on) the Lachyan Sea.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Remapping the Unlucky Isles with Wonderdraft

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Last Wednesday, my Seattle group started up a new D&D campaign set in a friend’s homebrew world. She unveiled the map for her setting, and it was amazing — pro-level cartography, tantalizing and inviting and clear, both functional and beautiful. She mentioned in passing that she’d created it in Wonderdraft, a mapping tool I’d never heard of before, so after the game I asked her how hard it was to create a map that awesome using Wonderdraft.

Not that hard, she said.

Now, to me that sounded like Michael Jordan casually sinking shots from mid-court, one after another, without even looking, while saying “It’s not that hard.” But she gave me some benchmarks for why it wasn’t that hard, how it involved a lot of painting (a plus for me), and how much simpler it was than learning Photoshop. That last one was key, because I’ve dabbled with Campaign Cartographer and it 1) felt a lot like trying to learn Photoshop, which I found to have a cliff-shaped learning “curve,” and 2) made me want to give up my worldly possessions and go live in the woods as a hermit.

So I took the plunge, watched a couple YouTube tutorials (D&D Breakfast Club’s tutorial 1 of 4 and Icarus Games’ video on transferring maps to Wonderdraft), and within 15 minutes I’d determined that 90% of what I wanted in a professional Unlucky Isles map was something I could do in Wonderdraft — and, like my friend said, it wouldn’t be that hard.

TL;DR: The new map of the Unlucky Isles

This map took me about 20 hours to make (including time spent finding assets and learning how to use Wonderdraft):

Still technically a draft, but this is the Unlucky Isles as of May 11, 2021 (created in Wonderdraft)

And here’s its predecessor:

My old map of the Isles, created in Worldographer

Some realizations

I was worried I’d have to create every map twice so that I could take advantage of Worldographer’s numbered hexes, a feature not found in Wonderdraft. But Wonderdraft has a robust user community, and that community has created a tool to give you numbered hexes. I also realized that while I always build my maps with old-school hexcrawling in mind, 99% of my fantasy RPG play has not been old-school hexcrawls.

In fact, 99% of that play has been in games that would benefit more from a Wonderdraft-style map than an old-school hex map. I’ve also found that I’m not taking advantage of one of Worldographer’s killer apps, which is the ability to map the same setting at the world, continent, and more local levels (with automagical terrain generation and child maps). And when I can drop a hex grid on my Wonderdraft map, run an addon to number those hexes, and have the best of both worlds (no pun intended), that really seals the deal.

Whoa, that’s too many cities! And too many people

Redoing this map — and expanding it — in Wonderdraft prompted me to name a lot more stuff. While browsing r/Wonderdraft I came across a comment on a user’s lovely map about there being too many settlements (not a universal truth, but a salient point for an RPG setting), and that plus my own mapmaking made me realize that I had too many cities in the Isles. I’ve wondered whether the Isles were too populous ever since I started ballparking the numbers, but this threw it into sharp relief.

So, a reckoning. I wiped out all the labels I’d created on my first big “map day” (after jotting down all the names for future use), rolled up my sleeves, and tucked into some revisions.

I’m leaning on two sources here, and moving WWN itself to the background (because those numbers skewed high): Medieval Demographics Made Easy (MDME), which the ever-brilliant S. John Ross has graciously made freely available with a very permissive license (and, as such, is now hosted here on Yore); and a Medium post by Lyman Stone looking at the same topic through the lens of Game of Thrones. They’re in broad agreement, which is good enough for me.

Let’s start with approximate hex counts, not worrying yet about what might count as wilderness (except in the lone very obvious case):

  • Arkestran Dominion: 215 hexes not counting the Wastes
  • Yealmark: 41 hexes
  • Brundir: 420 hexes
  • Rasu Miar: 165 hexes
    • Mainland Kadavis: 133 hexes of Kadavis proper on this map
  • Meskmur: 115 hexes
  • Ahlsheyan: 225 hexes on this map

I’m mapping in 6-mile hexes, which contain roughly 9 square miles. Ross and Lyman agree that a medieval (~1,000-1,500, more or less) population density of 100 people per square mile was an outlier reserved for only the most populous, arable nations. At 900/hex that’s 1,100 people/hex fewer than WWN posits — and most countries in the Isles will be well below 100/square mile.

Two examples:

  • Ross notes that 14th century England had about 40 people/sq. mi.
  • Lyman notes that if you average the figure from 1,000 to 1,500 CE, Scotland had about 4-8 people/sq. mi. (and, disagreeing with MDME, England comes out to 11-30 people/sq. mi.)

Whichever stat you use, the country I tend to treat as my benchmark for medieval population figures — England — has a lot fewer people/sq. mi. than my original estimates for the Isles. There’s also the whole fuzzy consideration that while the average medieval European country was just rotten with hamlets and thorps and whatnot, so dense with settlements that you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting the next one over, worlds designed for D&D-style adventuring need blank spaces.

Just to get the ball rolling, let’s say Brundir has 40 people/sq. mi. (420 hexes, not counting any as wilderness). That’s 151,200 people. WWN and MDME would both put about 5,000 people in Brundir’s largest city; WWN postulates about 15,000 in cities nationwide. The next largest would be 2,500. Both of those are pretty small cities — in fact, MDME doesn’t even consider a settlement a city if it has fewer than 8,000 people in it.

So how about Brundir with a population density of 75 people/sq. mi.? That gives Brundir the following stats:

  • Population 283,500
  • 28,000 in cities
  • 9,300 in the largest city
  • 3,780 sq. mi. of territory (420 hexes)
  • 1,575 sq. mi. of which is farmland (175 hexes, using MDME’s formula of 1 square mile of farmland supporting 180 people)

That feels more right to me than my initial WWN-driven population estimates. I don’t need to delve any deeper for the time being, but when I do this is the route I’ll be following.

Wonderdraft settings

Two things that have really been making Wonderdraft sing for me are Mythkeeper, a free tool which automates adding new assets (symbols, etc.) to Wonderdraft, and the Cartography Assets site, which is chock full of free and paid Wonderdraft asset packs. I fell in love with symbols pulled from old maps, so all of the forests, mountains, etc. on my Unlucky Isles map are drawn from historical examples.

For the sake of my sanity — and so that, if you like, you can create maps in this style — I’m recording some of the Wonderdraft choices and options I’ve used to create this map. Some things, like the map textures, are visible on a finished map when you load it in Wonderdraft — but many are not. Which of the seven sets of mountain assets did I use? What brush opacity did I color them with? That’s what this list is for.

In general, I’m always using brush #3 (the blotchy spray), and varying scales but usually 50% or below. All the names (Vischer, etc.) refer to assets or asset packs on Cartography Assets.

  • Mountains: Vischer or Widman mountains, #976035, brush opacity 1.0
    • Snowcapped peaks: Just paint the tips #FFFFFF, brush opacity 0.5
    • Volcanoes: Van Der Aa mountains, AoA Volcanoes Pencil smoke, #976035, brush opacity 1.0
    • Snowbound mountains (as in the Ice Courts): Paint the tips #FFFFFF, brush opacity 1.0, then add light squirts of #976035, brush opacity 0.25, just to break things up visually
  • Barren hills: Ogilby hills, #C8AD93, brush opacity 0.5
  • Verdant hills: Vischer regular hills (which are grassy/overgrown), so far only painted as forests
  • Forests: Vischer or Van Der Aa assets, with individual Vischer trees mixed in, #74A035, brush opacity 0.5; usually I add a few squirts of #2E6020, brush opacity 0.5, for variety
    • Deep Forests: #2E6020, brush opacity 0.5
  • Dead trees: Mix of default dead trees and Zalkenai’s dead trees, black, varying scales, #828864, brush opacity 0.5
  • Marshes: Vischer wetlands assets, with a few Widmer individual trees mixed in for variety, #37835E
    • Aausti marshes: As above, but instead of individual trees mix in Ogilby scrubs
  • Scrubland: Mix of Ogilby and Vischer scrub, #BAB26D, brush opacity 0.5
  • Farmland: Vischer furrowed fields, #BAB26D with a couple blasts of #74A035 for good measure
  • Broken lands: Popple hills, so far only used in the Atrachian Wastes so they were painted as dead trees
    • Devastation of The God That Eats: As broken lands, but without the hills and with Ogilby heaths
  • Vineyards: Vischer vineyards, a few squirts of #735B79, brush opacity 0.25
  • Snow-covered terrain: #FFFFFF, brush opacity 0.1, applied in single-click “squirts” with the widest brush possible for the terrain, aiming for a light, blotchy whiteness
  • Ruins/mysterious towers: Vischer ruins and monuments mixed with Van Der Aa towers, with Popple scrubs thrown in until it looks right; #828864, brush opacity 0.25, with a few squirts of brush #1 around it for blending
  • Weird obelisks: Vischer ruins and monuments; colored #828864, brush opacity 0.5 (So far, only used for the Thefaine in Aaust.)
  • Settlements: Custom Colors assets (included by default), #00000
    • Cities: Circle with dot in the center, 50% scale
    • Capital cities: Circle with star in the center, 50% scale
    • Towns: Dot, 35% scale
    • Forts: Filled diamond, 35% scale
    • Castles: Box with X in it, 35% scale
  • Roads: Solid line, #411602, width 3, roughness 0.33
    • Crappy roads: Dashed line, #411602, width 3, roughness 0.33
  • Rivers: Width 4, roughness 2, meander distance 0.6, generally with “river source fade-in” turned off
  • Borders: Dotted line, #BB101C, width 4, roughness 0.33
  • Raise/Lower Landmass Tool for coastlines: Roughness 2
  • Labels: Gentium Book Basic Bold (included), outline #000000 thickness 1 (except for bodies of water)
    • Nations: #B93841, font size 48, curvature 0.15, always horizontal
    • Cities, capital cities, towns: #B9B4B4, font size 20, no curvature, always horizontal
    • Castles, forts: As cities, but font size 14
    • Ruins: As castles, but curvature -0.2 instead of horizontal
    • Large bodies of water: #7EABA1, font size 36, outline 770C232C, curvature varies but always curved, orientation varies
    • Small bodies of water: As large, but font size 14 or 24
    • Rivers: #B9B4B4, font size 10, curvature varies but always curved, orientation varies
    • Major geographic features: #B9B4B4, font size 24, curvature varies but always curved, orientation varies
    • Minor geographic features: #B9B4B4, font size 14, curvature varies but always curved, orientation varies

I also like to mix in squirts of brush #1 (spray paint), 0.5 opacity, to blend the transitions between painted areas (primarily the default “not arable” beige and “arable” greenish-brown).

Non-English letters in labels

I’ve found that it can be handy (on PC) to have the Character Map app open for easy cutting and pasting into Wonderdraft labels. Every character won’t paste, presumably because my Wonderdraft font choice doesn’t include it — but enough do for me to get the job done.

And on the language front, Lexicity is another awesome resource for dead languages. It’s not as straightforward as Palaeolexicon, since it curates links rather than simply presenting dictionaries — but it has a lot of resources to offer.

Summing up

Wonderdraft isn’t as simple as Worldographer. For the purposes of creating a setting using Worlds Without Number (paid link), it is 100% Too Much Gun. When I’m working on a setting, creating a polished, beautiful map is a step that becomes a vast gulf between me and producing actual gameable content, and it leads to abandoned projects. It’s the antithesis of WWN’s highly successful “never give up your momentum, never stall out trying for perfection” philosophy.

But at this stage, with a full cycle of WWN’s region creation and kingdom creation under my belt (as in, I could run a game set in the Isles tonight), and as I’ve already moved on to a second region of Godsbarrow, making a pretty map of the Isles isn’t a roadblock of any kind. I don’t need it, and it’s not holding anything up; my Worldographer map is perfectly functional for play.

There is, however, no substitute for sitting down to play and having a gorgeous map in front of you — one that raises questions, makes you want to explore, and makes the setting feel real. If you’ve ever opened up an AD&D Forgotten Realms product and unfolded one of those glorious maps, you know that feeling. I want that for Godsbarrow, and I hope my map succeeds at that goal.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)