2nd May – Planning A Fantasy World – #MayWriteABit

In recent weeks, I’ve been getting quite into fantasy role-playing games. This is nothing new to me – I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons for several years now, and also played a bit in my youth – but more recently I’ve been keen on the idea of DMing.

The DM, in the parlance of the Dungeons and Dragons player, is the Dungeon Master – the person who sets the scene and controls the environment in which the player characters play their roles, including monsters, non-player characters, as well as arbitrating the rules of the game.

But the critical element, for me, is creating the world.

Whilst some DMs get really into creating worlds that are dystopian, in which the player are constantly up against alien monsters and desolated ruins of civilisations long past, I like the fantasy worlds that I create to be at least to some extent aspirational – places that I would want to experience. As such, I like to look at the places around me, or that I have experienced, and morph them into places that are more interesting and take advantage of their potential for a sense of place.

The world I’m currently creating is based loosely on a village that I visited in Slovakia last year (by train), as well as also drawing on some of the awe-inspiring landscapes of Norway’s fjords.

The map that I’m creating (still work in progress) of my fictional fantasy village of Gedelm.

The village of Gedelm is high up in a mountain valley, quite remote from the rest of the world, apart from a single road that follows the banks of the turbulent river Ged down to its confluence with the river Ted, at the market town of Lhonet. Being fast-flowing, the Ged is not navigable, and therefore the road is the only means of access for goods transportation between the two settlements. However, Gedelm remains an important settlement to the Kingdom of Tedua due to its reliable supply of timber, as well as raw wool from the sheep and goats which are reared on the mountain sides.

The village also has a strategic strength from its siting in upper basin of two rivers, with steep sided rocky peaks and ridges surrounding it. These ridges act as natural walls, and mean that the only practicable means of approach for an attacking force would be along the road. On this approach, a single short wall is sufficient to ensure that the town is defensible, and the castle, which sits on a rocky outcrop with good views down the valley all the way to mill, provides warning of approaching forces.

In designing this world, I have put thought not just into what the resulting place looks like, but how its economy works, why it is where it is, and how the natural landscape has informed the man-made structures that are added to it.

I didn’t think this was going to be a very natural lead in to a series of blog posts about planning, architecture and economics, but in hindsight, I think it’s ideal – when we think about place, context is everything. I find it annoying when anyone claims that something is objectively good design, but fails to put it into any kind of context.

Whether that context is economic, physical, or societal, it’s real, and that means that a good design for one context may be wildly inappropriate for another.

I’m run out of time, but I think covering this topic here has made me wonder whether I might introduce it from time to time in my #MayWriteABit articles for the rest of the month. We’ll see!