Friday, 6 July 2012

Coloring your Campaign

How do you come up with interesting elements to add to your campaign world?  A few months ago, I realized that I'd completely neglected to make any mention of animals, despite the whole campaign being set in the wilderness!

I wanted a tool that would help me remember to incorporate these things.  The end result of this little project was this (click to view):
The first version was a fancy series of concentric rings, which you could rotate to generate random combinations.  But printing/assembling was fiddly, rolling dice was easier anyways, and, more subtly, not all of the rings were meant to be used the same way.

This revised version (which I've actually had for a little while now, but never published here) is certainly easier to print, and is hopefully a little easier to use.

The philosophy behind this tool isn't to try to detail every aspect of a region, culture, or an NPC, but to create an interesting spine and then attach other details to it.

Brainstorming Silugan

For example, let's say the players are heading to Far Silugan, a location I haven't thought about much at all.  It's a riverside town at the edge of Keroon City's influence - beyond it are the trackless wastes of the Meer Galu.  That much I know, but what would make it memorable, or interesting?

I'll start with an Aspect of Nature - it seems fitting, because Far Silugan is so far from the city.  Rolling d8, I get 2: Landforms, Terrain, Geology.  (I haven't had my coffee, so nothing is leaping to mind yet.)  Now I'll add a Trend.  7: Upheaval.

Okay, that's interesting.  "Earthquake" is the obvious option, but the river makes me think of catastrophic erosion of a riverbank (possibly undermining important structures).  Maybe a sinkhole?  So, how does this influence the people?

Back to the top, I roll a sphere of human activity: 4 - Games, Play, Fashion.  Huh.  How is this affected by the erosion?  I roll a relation: 6 - Overt Domination Of.  The Games/Play/Fashion result isn't really grabbing me - I'm more interested in the undermined buildings that came to me before.

An emotion might be better: 8 - Celebration!  (Hah.)  Okay, fine, I can take a hint.

Now, how does what's happening present itself?  Nothing matters unless you perceive it.  I roll a sense: 5 - Smell.  Hmm.

Okay, Far Silugan is getting clear in my mind.  I see old, stone buildings, two or three stories mostly, but which have been completely undercut by the rapidly eroding river.  The populace, however, joyfully but steadfastly maintains the ancient arrangement of buildings, which somehow figures in a series of celebrations. The people maintain a laissez-faire, joyful outlook, and those that do not fish, busy themselves with maintaining the stonework.

After centuries of this erosion, the river now passes directly through the town, underneath the central plaza, now a dense arrangement of bridges and covered culverts.  Nevertheless, the erosion continues unabated, and one of the central buildings is expected to collapse any day now.  It is festooned with flags, streamers, and its lower story has been painted with wavy lines, symbolizing the wrinkles of old age.

When it finally does go, it will trigger a month-long celebration, during which the structure will be rebuilt atop new foundations.  The air is thick with the smell from countless fish being smoked in preparation.  Masons pile sand dredged from the river for mortar, while children play in the building's shadow, hoping to win at the game of being the last to touch the building before it falls, while old men pick their teeth, take bets on the falling day, and keep a watchful eye.