Saturday, July 6, 2013

DRAGONSGATE: NATION PROFILES


The Kingdom of
A N D E R L A N E

For starters, it's been quite a while since I've updated this series with any additional articles, and for that, I apologize. The pitfalls and challenges of Real Life always gets in the way of personal projects, and as such these articles predictably fell out of the top positions on my to-do list. However, I will soon be starting up an active campaign in this setting and it should be an excellent opportunity to give everything a dry run and see how it holds up to the actions of some dynamic characters.

Additionally, I've made a couple of changes to the setting, but only as far as nomenclature is concerned. 'Windmarch' and 'Seagate', while I liked the names themselves, felt a bit too generic and lacked any sense of national identity. Granted, the name of the game has been to try and create a world that is simple, straightforward and can accommodate a variety of stories and play-styles. Nevertheless, I decided to rebrand 'Windmarch' as Anderlane (the subject of this very article) and the nation of 'Seagate' as Barasea (the next article's subject).

What follows is my attempt to try and marshal together the pieces of information about Anderlane that I have floating around inside my mind, hopefully coalescing them into a cursory guide to the nation itself. It's not going to be a Frommer's, but it should help convey the fundamentals about the place.

HISTORICAL SUMMARY
The nation of Anderlane is one of the major 'northern' nations in Dragonsgate, sitting to the north of Andujas and Ferrago, and alongside its brother nation, Barasea. The two kingdoms were once united as the Empire of Algard in the days before the Maradi pushed northward from the sands. After the incursion was repelled, the Andujan provinces were united under a singular throne, but the damage done in the war led to a considerable amount of political infighting in the houses of nobility in Algard, fueling a plutarchically charged collapse of order and instigating a severe shortage of tradeable commodities and foodstuffs. In short, a cardiac arrest gripped the empire, and it was split it in two. Political rivalries and disputes about the decisions to begin diplomatic relationships with the new nation of Andujas (or to attempt to annex it into the Empire) caused a huge rent in the status quo in the Imperial Court, notably between the House of Landen and the 

House of Thormund (and all of their respective allies and kinsmen). Tensions escalated as the economy of the empire ground to a halt and the Emperor was ousted from the throne by a cadre of nobles hailing from all of the major houses who realized that as they could not make effective decisions for the empire as a whole, that the best decision would be to break the empire into two halves, each led by a monarch that matched the philosophies of the nobles who would serve as his vassals. This created a very turbulent time where titles and fiefs were redrawn and nobles were recreated as masters of different lands in their new kingdom. House Thormund became the most powerful family in the east and laid the foundations for the new monarchic lineage that would build Barasea; House Landen became the monarchic line that would lead Anderlane.

The castle at Edgemoor, straddling a deep ravine known as the blue cliffs, became the major focal point of the two countries' East/West boundary, with two keeps on either side of the ravine and a bridge connecting the two; the House of Thormund took the Eastern keep, as it stood within the lands of the nascent Barasea and the House of Landen took the Western Keep as it stood within the limits of Anderlane. In the one hundred years since the Maradi invasion, the nobility remains strongly in tact and the King's control of the nation has changed very little. Barasea, however, underwent further sweeping changes, as we will see in the next post.

The country is divided into four duchies and five shires (hey, Anderlane is supposed to be vaguely Anglo-Saxon).
The Duchies are Windmarch (the capital city and its immediate surroundings are considered a royal fief, giving the King the mostly technical title of 'Duke of Windmarch' in addition to King of Anderlane), Haidon, Thurnwall and Vanley; the shires are Argrave, West Arborland, East Arborland, Stormland and Thrace.
The capital city is Windmarch (I decided that I should keep a reference to the original name of the nation somehow).
Other major cities in the nation are: Briston, Holston, Artis, Canson Hill, Stormridge, Banniston, Velving Cross and Thasholm. Lasthill, Springpool, Archmere are locations of major military outposts meant to secure trade routes through the country.

POLITICS
House Landen is the main noble family in the kingdom (the current Royal Family), with a fair number of its kinsmen in notable bureacratic positions and holding a majority of seats on the King's privy council. That said, the influence of House Landen in the kingdom is immense, but that is not to say that they are the only noble family in the country that holds any power.

The following is a list of the major regions in the country and the noble house that currently holds the fief in possession. In addition to the duchies and shires of the country, there are a handful of smaller holdings that belong to what would be considered the major nobility of the realm (ie. Nobles holding more than one title simultaneously, much as the King is both King of Anderlane and Duke of Windmarch concurrently).

1. Haidon – House Arken
2. Vanley – House Brightblade
3. Thurnwall – House Graystone
4. Stormland – House Fourwell
5. Argrave – House Carhaen
6. West Arborland – House Blackdrake
7. East Arborland – House Threnmoor
8. Thrace – House Highglen

The King himself autonomously governs nearly all major decisions pertaining to domestic and international matters, though he is advised extensively by his Privy Council, which consists of individuals he appoints from his own court. The Privy Council commands no explicit power or resources, but their influence is still highly regarded, and many instances have been observed where the Council is the de facto ruler of the realm, cleverly manipulating the decisions of the monarch with delicate wordplay and psychological tactics. It should be noted the council can petition the King to certain actions (or to dissuade the king from certain actions), but there is no method of compelling the monarch to act under their advice. As the council is often assembled from courtesans who would be considered either close friends or even family of the king, their advice is scarcely ignored outright, or at least they aren't imprisoned for voicing opinions contrary to the monarch. Members of the Council usually include the following: the High Clerics of the Churches of Heironeous, Pelor, Ilmater and sometimes Jophar; other titles include the Lord Steward, who manages the royal holdings and estates; the Lord Exchequer, who manages the kingdoms finances; the Lord Chancellor, who by default also presides over all official courtly meetings and matters; the Lord Barrister, who handles all judicial matters and handles the enaction and official ratification of new Royal Charters or Royal Decrees; and finally, the Earl Marshal, who reports to the king on all military matters and handles the security of the realm.


DEFENSE
The army of Anderlane is sizeable, consisting of 11,000 royal regulars (basic soldiers, not hereditary knights) that can be marshaled at any time, 340 hereditary knights and an additional 2300 men-at-arms that can be summoned to duty from the nobles of the country. The navy is somewhat smaller, with three flagships, twenty frigates and eleven caravels. The main purpose of the naval forces is to protect the coastal lands of Anderlane and to safeguard shipping routes to the Far West to the lands of Formarest. The flagships are rotated between the major port cities of Anderlane, accompanied by a handful of frigates and caravels. The names of the flagships are the Horizon, the Blade of Nessus, the Sovereign Vengeance.

The Earl Marshal has direct command over all naval forces and all ground forces, managing orders to all of his generals and sub-captains.

Major Outposts and Fortresses: Each of the following outposts is garrisoned with its own reserve of royal regulars, which are supplemented by local militias paid for and equipped by royal funds. The royal family never entirely trusted the machinations of the other noble families and saw it prudent to establish permanent holds and keeps that placed soldiers loyal to the Crown within the lands enfiefed to the king's vassals.
-Wyley Keep
-Ironfane Hold
-Meagrove
-Harnhold
-Janforth Castle
-Thurnwall Tower
-Brycecroft Castle
-Leeside Bastion

RACIAL COMPOSITION
Before the Maradi invasion, the people of the Algard Empire had developed good relations with the dwarves that lived in the mountainous regions in the west, and as such, over time, some of them left their subterranean cities and joined their human counterparts, adding the smithing skills of the dwarves to the aptitudes of the people of Anderlane. As such, the quality of their worked metals is much more highly sought after than the metalwork done by the smiths in Barasea.

RELIGION
Heironeous, Pelor and Ilmater are the major deities worshiped in the realm of kingdom of Anderlane, which is to say that their temples are somewhat proliferate throughout the kingdom; Moradin has the occasional temple in areas that have higher populations of dwarves mixed in with the humans (ie. Close to the mountains); Thestu, god of the North Wind has some temples in the coastal cities. Perhaps the largest religion by and far is that of the monotheistic religion dedicated to Jophar, a highly venerated god of protection and vigilance. Anderlane has a considerably large population of druidic peoples, commonly referred to as pagans or heathens, and as such, the ancient, nameless gods of the forests and wildlands are worshipped along the outermost, northern borders of the country. As far as tolerance of the pagan gods and practices go, the regions that are most heavily intertwined with the church of Jophar are less tolerant of the heathen ways; in the region of Thrace (controlled by House Highglen), are the most sympathetic to the pagan way of life and as such, the influence of the church of Jophar is highly limited.

TRADE + RESOURCES
Anderlane maintains strong trade ties to Barasea and to Andujas, though it is beginning to open trade direct trade routes and establish companies and ventures with Maradi consortiums after the latter's intent to join the Council of Nations was made clear. Additionally, the country maintains consistent flow of goods to the lands of Formarest across the Empyreal Sea. Anderlane's major trade goods are hardwood timbers, coal, iron ore, gems, wool, wheat, granite and finely crafted weaponry (a legacy of the master dwarven smiths that have been assimilated into the country). Wheat and timber are particularly sought after in Andujas, where such materials are incredibly difficult to come by; iron ore and gems find a steady market in Barasea where the basaltic soils make mining incredibly difficult and costly.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

WORLDBUILDING: PART 7

The History of Dragonsgate, Continued


Previously, we had established the skeletal frame of major historical events in Dragonsgate, heaping on a few embellished details here and there. Nevertheless, we're still very much operating in general terms, not specific ones. So, for today, we'll be examining the elements previously explored (but in-depth and with more connections to the greater timeline of the world) and narrowing in on some more specific events. Essentially, we'll be identifying lots of Proper Nouns in the grand scheme of things.


To recap, we had the following things already pegged out:



1. The Great Mishap (some great Lovecraftian horror that summarily stomped on everything)

2. The War of the Nine Wands (because how badass does that sound?)

3. The Northern Exodus/Genetic Ark (this one is a bit peculiar and might actually be eliminated – if that were the case, then we'd still need to figure out some way to explain the sudden appearance of new races and people after the Great Mishap obliterated the majority of them).

4. The First Council of Nations

5. The construction of the Librams and the War of the Librams (now we have two major historical wars, and I'm starting to feel like I'm relying on a war as a major historical event too much – other things do happen, too, from time to time).

6. The Maradi Incursion (the spread of the people of Marad from the southern reaches up into the mid-latitudes).

7. The Andujan Unification (the nation of Andujas was originally a fragmented series of nation-states and feuding territories)

8. The division of the Kingdom of Algard into Windmarch and Seagate (a crisis of succession, perhaps).



I've also cobbled together a list of artifacts, entities and holidays that will help me reverse-engineer other important events and occurrences. These will mainly serve as some filler to draw from in an effort to connect the dots. Some of these won't be used, but they can come in handy in a pinch. Sometimes it's pretty useful to have a list of NPCs, items, locations or other incidental specifics (local holidays, the name of a tavern or local authority figure; in this case, we have a little bit of everything:

- The Legion of the Unbreaking Ring

- Althurn's Monolith (a mysterious, jade slab discovered in an archaeological expedition)

- The Sacred Peace

- The Black Iron Wand, probably associated with the War of the Nine Wands

- The Swords of Casadholm/Blades of Corruption

- A Planar Overlap (cosmic phenomenon)

- Shadowfall

- A significantly devastating blight/drought that crippled the power center of several of the nations (or perhaps predecessor nations to the current ones in Dragonsgate) that had to be corrected through great effort or the intervention of some outside force).

- A significant meteorite or comet impact widely associated as a religious sign or divine Advent.

-Crystal Day

-Third Moon

-The Parade of Bells

-The ancestral Dwarven blade known as Stonebreaker

-The Siege of Barad Isra





I also want to try and think of ways to include a significant undead threat/scourge that can serve as a major antagonist or at least serve as a looming danger in the backdrop. It's always a good idea to seed at least a few potential opportunities for chaos and discord. As I've mentioned before, something needs to happen relatively quickly in any campaign or story; failing to catalyze the occurrence of something dramatic and/or interesting will risk the possibility of losing the attention of some or all of your players (or your audience). By creating several threats (agents enacting their own schemes, whether they're evil outright or just simply at odds with the players), you give yourself numerous chances to steer the story toward, depending on what your players' interests are gravitating toward. As a good rule of thumb, if none of the players are biting a potential hook you've devised, don't use it, even if you're particularly fond of it. Player disinterest is the poison that will destroy even the most carefully crafted campaign.



Additionally, I want to try and reasonably integrate dragons into this campaign setting. They're usually a fantasy staple that I try to avoid using in my games (specifically because they are so pervasive in classic settings). Given that the world is called Dragonsgate, I feel like I'm morally obligated to include them. Maybe the plane could serve as some sort of casablanca that the dragons fled to after some other event elsewhere. Perhaps dragons are deities from another plane whose worshipers eventually stopped believing in them as their numbers declined (infighting amongst themselves would probably b the most likely reason). Maybe they fled to Dragonsgate, finding the world charred, battered and broken by the doings of the Lovecraftian horror and decided that this would be a good place to make camp. I'm actually liking this idea quite a bit. Also, if the dragons are deities, then they would be a suitable explanation for the 'reseeding' of new lifeforms on the shattered planet – essentially creating a new world and new worshipers for themselves. Well, that worked out well. I've simultaneously figured out how to explain the rise of new creatures in the vacuum after the Mishap and allowed for dragons to have a reasonable presence in the world. I'll still say that, as deities, the dragons would be reclusive and only rarely directly intervene (at least in dragon form) in mortal affairs. Also, given that dragons are so easily able to change their form, they could easily masquerade as mortals great and small. I kind of like the idea of a king of one of the nations actually being one of the dragon gods. Kind of creates a lot of interesting possibilities.



Alright. So, getting back on track, let's move through our 8 points from above and try to get everything resolved into a cohesive matrix of historical goodness.



I'm actually kind of fond of the “Great Mishap” name. Originally, I'd thought it would just be more of a placeholder name, but it's grown on me. The Tieflings (ie. The cursed survivors from the previous world) might view it differently than the current inhabitants, but the circumstances are still one and the same. The only important thing to note here is that knowledge of this event (from the perspective of the current inhabitants of Dragonsgate) would be limited. I think that the only way they would even be aware that there was a world prior to their own is because of the deductive reasoning of the dragons that came to the plane. In their place as gods, they would probably have their own holy scripture that would depict the world before as a bleak, horrible world that was resurrected from the charred ashes by the divine grace of these reptilian saviors. Essentially, though, the dragons don't have much knowledge of what had happened, specifically that is, other than that the world had clearly been destroyed by something. I'll say that one of the dragon deities, almost oracular in his/her ability to divine information, had used a powerful spell (vision or some other divination spell) to learn of the horror, but they would keep that information privy to only the most faithful, or even just to themselves). As far as the context of the Mishap, the evil entity whose evilness triggered the summoning of uncontrollable magic to stop him will be Maradun of the Pit a, and I'll detail him in a little while (probably in the footnotes). So, the horror destroyed everything, and, like Galactus1, decided to leave afterward, searching for other worlds to devour. The dragons came from another world and reseeded life, giving Dragonsgate a second lease on existence. Liking it so far. Eventually, we can detail more about the tieflings and the heroes they originally were, but that's getting a little beyond our goal at the moment (ie. Too specific).



The War of the Nine Wands. Sure, it sounds pretty awesome and sufficiently epic. But what the heck are the eponymous wands, and why are there nine of them? Why not ten? And why are there enough people fighting over them to be called a war? All valid questions, and I have no idea what the answer is right now. I feel a bit like George Lucas, making up the Clone Warsb for A New Hope then vainly searching for some way to include them into the plot of my prequels. I certainly don't want it to feel that pathetic, so I'll endeavor to make it a significant event that lives up to its epicness (epickness?). Already, part of my inkling is to connect the wands to the dragons. Let's say there are nine dragons, and each has a wand that is keyed to their specific portfolios of divine power. This would have to be before they've really, truly been established as a pantheon of deities, let alone coalesced their influence into a hierarchical order or official church. Maybe they didn't always get along, maybe they've been reluctant allies in the past, or maybe greed dominated their hearts at the potential of seizing Dragonsgate for their own. As divine entities, they command a pretty potent legion of servitors at their disposal, so a war could be protracted and last for eons if the gods were all about on even footing as far as power levels are concerned. Now, here's something interesting; let's say that the original gods were jaded about the obliteration of their world, but nevertheless had no intention of just packing up shop and washing their hands of it. Then these upstart dragons pop into the scene and just start digging on in. If I were a deity, my reaction would be pretty unfavorable – some wrath and lightning bolts would be involved, for certain. The dragons create the new denizens of Dragonsgate before the older gods can say “WTF?” and, finally the two groups of deities meet, exchanging some not-so-nice words. The older gods might try to convert the nascent beings to their religion (ie. Away from the dragons) and that's when I imagine the pot would boil over. I also like the notion of a Loki-esque tricksterc deity stealing the magic wands of the dragons to lend to the older deities, and thus the divine war begins. There are obviously more details to discuss about this war, but it could easily fill another several pages, and we still have a lot of ground to cover, so I'll think about having a separate post for the War of the Nine Wands. At least we have a general idea of what it is though, so that counts for a lot.



Also, as it pertains to the conflict between the Elder Gods and the Dragons, I wanted to mention a brief thing or two about the seeding of new mortal life. While I don't think that the “Genetic Arks” originally envisioned have much of a place in a fantasy setting (it feels a little too science-fiction/science-fantasy), I do like the idea of the original gods having a few “prototype” creatures that they were planning on bestowing the Flame Imperishable2 upon. That's also getting a bit beyond the scope of things, but how awesome would it be if a group of heroes found an ancient, ruined site, and saw that there were a bunch of strange, peculiar statues littering the area and became convinced that it was either the doing of a very eccentric sculptor or a medusa, only for the Big Reveal d to indicate that the statues were actually going to be animated as new creatures. From the DM POV, that is all kinds of awesome.



The next major point was the Northern Exodus/Genetic Ark matter, which I think has been sufficiently addressed, so I'll move onto the next one.



The First Council of Nations. Obviously, the event would occur after the War of the Nine Wands, well within recorded history (I'm pretty sure the War of the Nine Wands is something of mythic status, not cited as fact or a recorded event, mainly because it happened so long ago). I simply thought it was important to note because of its impact on the extant world. The Council of Nations was set up by the nation of Pazu, as I have already mentioned before. They are the consummate diplomats of Dragonsgate, and it seems fitting to have them be responsible for such a landmark event. I envision that once every year, there is a grand summit where envoys from every nation (at the nation, regional and city levels) gather to discuss matters of great importance or far-ranging gravitas. The Treaty of Zelat (one of the major cities of Pazu) is the document that binds its signatories to the protocols and provisions laid out in the treaty. Let's say that to this date, no one has violated the treaty, but Andujas has come close in the past by attempting to annex territories from Ferrago and Marad. Let's create some political tension where we can. As I've said before, it can't be all sunshine and butterflies.



Next point. The Construction (and War) of the Librams. There's been a lot of major conflict already, but this would be the first protracted conflict in living history. I think that this could be tied to the creation or intended creation of a magical/arcane order attempting to create easier (but still regulated) access to magica power. Or it could be the unearthing of several ancient texts that pose a danger to the world much like the horror once did. So, these could be sources of potent magical energies that have some significant risk to the people of Dragonsgate. Still, this one is making me scratch my head a bit, so this might have to simmer for a while.



Lastly, we'll discuss the (a) Maradi Incursion, (b) the Andujan unification and (c) the separation of the Algardian crown into that of Windmarch and Seagate. Each of these regions is going to have its own history that might be a bit beyond the scope of things in the immediate task of our worldbuilding efforts, so I'll try to paint these in broad strokes, leaving the finer details for articles that are essentially profiles of the individual nations.



The Maradi Incursion. Marad stretches beyond the map that we devised originally, probably going for another 250-300 miles into the south, where the caliphate terminates at the sea. Seems logical to me. Anyway, the incursion represents the time in history where the caliphate stretched its reach to the north, annexing territories held by Andujan warlors and petty nobles, prior to the concentration of power in Andujas proper (we'll talk about that below). The incursion was eventually halted when the Andujan nobles managed to put aside their squabbles and feuds and unite against a common foe. After the Andujan unification, Marad was unable to maintain its momentum northward, but was too strong to be driven back. Ever since, there has been a sort of cold war state between the two, the only factor that prevents all out war from igniting being the Council of Nations. It should be noted that the Council was probably established as a means of halting this conflict before it could escalate further (and to prevent it from happening again). It should be mentioned that Andujas and Marad are both signatories of the Treaty of Zelat.



The Andujan Unification. As mentioned above, the unification was directly in response to the Maradi threat, and the nobles of Andujas and their factions looked past their differences, establishing an elective monarchy with an Emperor voted into office by an Imperial Diet comprised of representatives of each of the cities and noble territories. The Emperor was advised by a council comprised of the Dukes and Duchesses of each territory under his or her control. The laws governing the office were drafted hastily in order to match the threat of invasion, and as such, there are loopholes and exceptions to the system that have yet to be addressed or exploited (fortunately). In many ways, the entire system is an experiment, but its success in driving back the threat from the caliphate made it an extremely popular effort in the country and has contributed to it taking a firm root.



The splitting of the Algardian Crown. I've prattled on for a while now, and I'm starting to run out of steam for this particular effort, but I know that I want this to be some sort of crisis of succession. There are numerous historical precedents for this, and as such, it seems like a logical option. The King of Algard passes away unexpectedly (without a direct male descendant) and there are two potential heirs, both having strong claims to the throne. A protracted political crisis ensues, and the nation is nearing the point of civil war as the factions of either heir bristle at the other's claim. A pact is eventually reached, and administered by the nobility of the land, the crown's territories are split into two realms, that of Windmarch and Seagate. Oddly enough, to this day, the two nations remain staunch allies, probably because there was no blood shed over the matter and both of the claimants did get what they wanted – a crown and the title of King.



That pretty much sums up our exploration of the history of the world, now that we've figured out the most important stuff. Next time, I think we'll start profiling the nations of Dragonsgate. Should be fun! Also, I'll start exploring some of the other random elements from my miscellaneous list at the beginning of the post - they should fit better in the individual nation profiles anyway.





Footnotes:



a. Coming back to Maradun of the Pit and the Legion of the Unbreaking Ring from my list of random knick-knacks and goodies, what if his disciples found a way to bring him back? It's a tale as old as villainy itself – the villain that comes back from the darkness to resume his EVIL CAMPAIGN OF VILE VILLAINY, usually only for the sake of villainy itself. Given that whatever events have unfolded in the past, if he were to be brought back from the dead, it would be the players' first time encountering him as a threat, so it feels like less of an abusive trope and I'm comfortable with throwing it into the mix. As for the Unbreaking Ring, why not have it be an adamantine bauble that lends some significant reserves of arcane power to the villain. In a way, it's the One Ring, but much less of a plot device (see MacGuffin). There always has to be a source of power for the villain, and considering that this artifact possesses its own wellspring of magical energy that is beyond the purview of the tieflings, that gives Maradun a significant advantage in plotting his plots. What exactly he's up to, who knows, but he might have a keen interest in harnessing the destructive potential of the horror that caused his demise previously.



b. The Clone Wars. A famous example of unsuccessful retconning or retroactive story engineering. It's pretty clear that Lucas didn't have too firm of an understanding what happened in the Clone Wars, only that he made it up to sound like a cool backstory element in A New Hope. That's entirely my opinion, however (as a caveat).



c. Loki













Monday, February 18, 2013

Hexographer: A Review

OPEN SOURCE WORLDBUILDING SOFTWARE

All this worldbuilding work lately highlights just how work-intensive the process is. Sometimes, as a DM or as a writer (or both), spending all of this time working on creating the setting can actually become a serious detractor to working on the actual project at hand - be it writing a chapter or fleshing out a character for a story or if it's basic prep for a typical campaign session for an RPG. Either way, not everyone has bucket-loads of time to spend working on what many gamers would consider to be among the most tedious, labor-intensive efforts. Citing myself in particular, time is really a luxury these days. The only reason I've been managing to put out a stream of posts on the topic is that I was able to work on them pretty heavily over the winter holiday between semesters. Moral of the story, sometimes, as a DM, you have to work smarter, not harder.

A long while ago, I stumbled across a freeware program called Hexographer. At the time the most useful version was a paid-only version, which is usually a big turn-off for me. I'm a big fan of open software and Open projects in general, and seeing something that is potentially very useful being kept out of my hands strikes me as jarringly anti-utopian. But that's another story for another day. The story for today is that the free version of the program is now actually incredibly useful. In fact, the RPG Tools website now has a plug-in for its random world generator that will output a .png image that is compiled using a streamlined version of the Hexographer software.

Here's an example of what you can get (for free, no less) just with a few clicks. The results can, of course, be customized to an extent, but this is already a great scaffold to move forward with:


You can see the similarities between the previous fractal-generated worlds, but with the exception that this world is more constructed and fleshed out. This is a priceless boon for any DM in need of ideas or details on the fly.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is Hexographer, you ask? The snide, concise answer is that it's a computer program. But it is ever so much more than that. In strategy games and in some RPGs you often see the field or map divvied up into hexes as a means of organizing the terrain into discreet parcels or tiles (typically as a way of tracking movement for units or squads or otherwise visualizing a self-contained battlefield so that it is manageable for the DM/GM). In a way, this is an alternative method of procedurally generating an entire region one tile at a time. It works a lot like Minecraft, where one chunk (regional location) loads at a time - the effect being that adjacent chunks, once loaded, blur seamlessly with one another creating a logical transition between tiles. Hexographer essentially outputs a .png file of a world that is broken into numerous hexes, each one identified as either a mountain hex, field hex, water hex, forest hex, desert hex etc. etc. The obvious advantage here is that, unlike in my worldbuilding series, you can procedurally generate a world that already has its terrain and geography figured out. The major geographical features are figured out, but the minor ones are left for the DM/GM to fill in. You can only expect so much work to be done for you, after all, and this is already a veritable gold mine of information.

Here's a screen capture of the RPG Tools hexographer interface - you can literally let it run on random settings and generate a pretty usable campaign world. Again, a lot of the names and features have a very, very random feel to them (cobbled together from numerous fictitious sources and some real world references, but many of the proper nouns have far too many vowels or awkward consonants to be spoken smoothly during any normal game):

In a way, I do recommend the RPG Tools plug-in a little bit more than the Hexographer software itself mainly as the world-generator at RPG Tools will automatically populate the hex image with towns, castles/ruins (dungeons of various types) and major landmarks. This can be an immense time-saver for the gamer that needs a generic setting on the fly, but the problem is that you will be sacrificing the richness and diversity involved in a custom-built campaign setting. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but Dragonsgate has a lot more uniqueness going on about it. However, for the gamer seeking a nostalgic setting more evocative of classic 2nd Edition experiences reminiscent of the original Greyhawk (*1) setting or Blackmoor (*2), using RPG Tools features/featurettes isn't a bad way to go. Nevertheless, using Hexographer is an excellent way to get the most difficult worldbuilding features done in an automated way leaving yourself to pencil in the customized details of the world itself.

Also, as kind of a legend for both Hexographer and RPG Tools, here are the types of hexes that the generators output - they are all pretty easily recognizable (cartography shouldn't be pulling any punches, after all), but I figured a handy reference for the uninitiated might be in order.

You can run Hexographer here - it's a pretty painless process. The one downside is that the free version requires an internet connection to run as it has to be run in your browser, rather than as an actual program per se. The good news is that means it can be run cross-platform without any issues. The site itself walks you through getting it up and running. Also, you can import an image file and have Hexographer trace it, adding hex tiles over the original image, allowing you to draw your own landforms and masses, which adds even more options for customization. The image added has to be a .png though - no .jpgs allowed, unfortunately. Although, I would argue that .pngs are superior images anyhow, but that is also beside the point.

When you get the program running, you should see a window that has a host of possibilities, options and specific settings for generating whatever kind of world map you want. There are even options to generate star maps/space maps for a science-fiction setting (which will be another project for me later on down the road).


After the map is generated, you can customize the output by playing around with the various icon and tile settings listed in the large sidebar to the right of the map itself. You can left click on the specific icon you want to add, left click on the destination hex and then right click the same hex; it will overlay that icon on to the specified hex, indicating that there is a specific feature at that location. The kinds of icons are pretty varied and useful - you can even place infantry icons for use in large-scale groundwars, something that would be heavily useful for very strategic-combat-oriented games or campaign missions.

At this point, you can get as detailed as you want. The hex output here is much more sophisticated and complex than the RPG Tools output, so, providing a legend here is a bit moot. The sidebar explains every hex and tile pretty thoroughly, but given the high degree of flexibility and customizability, I highly encourage playing around with the program to see what your preferences are. The one major downside to the output here is that the hexes form a much more blocky map, which gives it less of a realistic look. Each method seems to have its advantages and disadvantages. Well, when dealing with the Realm of Open-Source Products, one can't have everything.

Well, having let the cat out of the bag, hopefully these prove to be useful resources for some of you. I know that I'll end up using both for any of my campaign storybuilding endeavors in the near future (post-Dragonsgate).

Also, following the suggestion of a friend, I've decided to hold most links or other citations/references to the end, placing them as footnotes for the article. We'll see how it works out - I'm a fan of the idea though. Footnotes are, after all, quite fun.


1. The World of Greyhawk: one of the original prototype campaign settings, designed by Gary Gygax himself beginning in the '70s. It's a fairly traditional high fantasy setting, spilling over with the details that he hammered into it over decades and decades. Interestingly enough, the setting is massive, and there's an odd analogical overlay between Greyhawk and our own world (in fact, regions of the world of Greyhawk correspond to regions of our own world - weird. Apparently, Southern California corresponds to Nyrond and Nevada corresponds to The Theocracy of the Pale. Fun stuff. There's also a lot more information on Wikipedia.

2. Blackmoor: the actual first campaign setting developed by Dave Arneson (co-creator of D&D).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Speedpaints Update

Decided to post a couple of speedpaints I did this evening to try and relieve some stress that's been piling up throughout the week due to various school projects and such. Guess you could consider it a form of art therapy.