When building a new D&D World the temptation is to sit down and draw a world map with great oceans and oddly shaped continents, but that is the most difficult way to begin. If you want to design a world think of it in the same order as your players do, from their home town outward. Start with the village your characters grew up in. That’s what I’ve done with the Village of Rylaan.
Creating the village first allows you to build a stable of NPC’s that the characters already know (from growing up) and will return to time and time again. The best role-playing comes when the DM is talking for an NPC that he has used several times over the course of the campaign. After one or two successful adventures the characters will be the heroes of the village and may get discounts on equipment, armour and weapons or they may even become the mayor or city council. The DM can come up with a number of reasons for the characters to return to the village time and time again. Because of their frequent visits it is important to design a village that offers everything the characters are going to need.
DRAWING THE MAP
When I drew Rylaan is was the only map I had of my new world, which I have named Aulean. I started drawing on the back of a cue card by drawing the Sopersai River. While drawing have a piece of note paper next to you so you can write some notes. I asked myself how do the villagers use the river? Since the scale makes the river appear to be about 25 feet wide there is plenty of room for small boats, canoes and manual barges. The local farmers can use the river to ship their grain down river to one of the larger towns where it will later be shipped to the big city built on the mouth of the Sopersai River. I drew the Grain Silos (17) next for storage of the grain. These wide, squat wooden and metal structures can store thousands of pounds of grain before it ships down river. The farmers from outside the village is going to need somewhere to spend the night before heading back to their farms so I drew the Soggy Goat Inn (1). Right away I decided that this was the first structure to be built in the village by a businessman named F. Rylaan. This point was halfway between the larger town upriver and the larger town down river. He figured that people would reach this point during the third night of travel (in either) direction and would like a soft bed and a hot meal. He was right. So now I needed a road. I drew in Tilnor Road (named after the larger town located down river).
Rylaan Grew from the Inn
Now I had a river, a road, an inn and a pair of silos but I knew where the village had started. As Mr. Rylaan got rich off of dozens of travellers a month other businessmen appeared and setup shops. The General Store (2), Cobbler Shop (3) and Butcher (4) were the next buildings to appear across from inn. My logic for these three stores was that travellers will obviously need supplies during their trips. They may need to stop and have their boots repaired from over use. Travelling hunters can bring their kills to the butcher who would prepare it or travellers could buy fresh meat. At this point I decided that Mr. Rylaan would build himself a manor home so I drew one as far away from the inn as I thought he would go. Added a road between Tilnor Road and Rylaan Manor (16) and drew the hillside meaning the manor overlooks the road and the river. At this point in the timeline the area became known for the manor and therefore took the name Rylaan.
The workers in the fledging village would need places to stay so I drew an new road (Rylaan Road) and 5 stand alone houses (5, 6, 7, 11 and 14) and decided that the three stores would have a living quarters on the second floor for their owners and families to live. Any new stores would include a full family’s living quarters above it to increase the population of the village. Each of the 5 stand alone locations had some vegetable gardens and other crops added to ensure the village would be able to find itself. Mr. Rylaan held a monopoly in the area until 20 years after his death. It was at that point in time the first competition appeared. The Golden Goblet Pub (15) was built at the opposite end of the village. There was enough business for both locations. It was the owner of the Pub that commissioned the building of the statue to Mr. Rylaan (8) to stand and watch over the village. It was a perfect thing for the blob of land surrounded by the roads and the river. The bakery (12) and the blacksmith shop (13) were the next items I drew followed by the Mill House (10) as the bakery would need it. Finally it occurred to be that during all of this construction the village was going to need a carpenter shop (9) so I drew it in. This finished the map.
It’s all in the Details
The hardest part of any map is filling in the details to a level that would be useful to the players, but leave more than enough room for expansion as the game unfolds. I decided that all each location needed was list of owners, their families and what they sell (and the price). No structure plans at this point. If they were to become needed I could draw them, but for now I needed to determine the first adventure. I didn’t want to have to expand this map just yet so the adventure would have to take part within the village itself. I’ve played enough Skyrim to know that I could put rats or spiders in someone’s basement but that would be cliche. So I decided that Rylaan Manor has become unused over the years as the Rylaan family either moved away or died out and no-one have come to claim the structure and the village doesn’t have the coin to restore it. I decided that a wizard has taken over the structure secretly in the night and is using it for his research and experiments. So I now had to draw Rylaan Manor in detail and start to build an adventure around that map.
That will be the next article.