I've been rather quiet about Krendel lately. I've been sick pretty consistently, busy with work, and even ruminating over the possibility of a third year here, but that doesn't mean nothings been happening. The truth is that I'm just not that great at advertising what I'm doing, especially when the back of my mind is haunted by, "what if someone steals my idea."
One of the chief issues brought up with Krendel is that it lacks setting. Part of me is gob-smacked that people don't make up their own (plus its kind of the point of Krendel that you build your own). Part of me also understands and commiserates. After all, part of the original plan was to release a couple of sample settings, including the fantasy world behind the whole thing. Well, the next release of Krendel will focus on this setting (in addition to massaging some of the rules). So I figured I'd talk a bit about it.
When planning any setting, the first thing that pops into my mind are all the ideas. Like, duh.
One of the joys has been going to parts of the imaginary world that weren't really fleshed out. For example, I had a place on the map that was just labeled "Karakeet Jungle". It had two things of note. One of these was that the queen of the fungal forest emerged from the darkest parts of the jungle to ruin everyone's day but was stopped. Alright, not a bad idea, but who did she rofl-stomp, did any survive, where are they now, how did this change their attitudes, and more questions. Remember, its never enough to just ask "wouldn't it be cool if", you have to also ask "does this make sense" and "how can I make this work". So now Karakeet is the name of the kingdom that was once there. The survivors from its last remaining province have set up a new state and are dealing with refugees, etc. etc.
Also, a lot of time has passed since some of my original notes were made. I can look back at some and say with certainty, damn, that was stupid. Dirty secret time, there was an NPC named Tenebrae Victus. Let's just say that someone couldn't make it to the trash bin fast enough. There's a lot of good ideas in there still, but its clear I didn't always go beyond "wouldn't it be cool if", and that my idea of cool clearly matured. Those folks who played in this world in college and before may not recognize the final product.
Once ideas are somewhat solidified, its a question of how and where to present that stuff. This is especially important when you concoct worlds disconnected from the typical medieval European fantasy, and Krendel happens to purposefully give the finger to that setting. Part of this is also a question of what really matters to people who might use the product.
Do folks want pages discussing fashion, food, and legal codes? Do you care about the games and literature of a world? Probably not. Oh stop glaring, I know there are exceptions, and things like that are important, but they can generally be presented very briefly, through art, or left out all together. For instance, clothing can easily be conveyed through art, and you really don't need a matrix for calculating personal worth and the costs of crimes in the Ravishan legal code. Heck, even food can be conveyed by way of a map (e.g. http://kottke.org/16/06/world-map-of-the-origin-of-agricultural-crops).
When you narrow stuff down, where do you even put it? It seems overkill to put all the setting information up front. Folks really just need to know enough to set initial expectations before they start doing what they want: making characters. What is the technology level and is there magic? What if I want to play a priest? Why is information on faiths and religions almost always after the information on making characters. How is that not important?! How much of this do you need to know when making a character? Well, what if there's just a snippet of each area during character creation that also tells what major languages and religions are used and then leave most of the rest for later? That could work.
So there's a lot of stuff that can be packaged differently or that can be left out all together (maybe some later supplement if I feel frisky). What about what most folks care about? Well, first we ask what do people care about? Generally speaking, that comes down to who is my character, how does my character fit into the world, where is my character going, and what is my character interacting with.
As mentioned, art can go a long way towards helping you visualize your character. Despite my students' claims, I'm no artist. So this will be interesting, since I'll at least need to convey the information to the artists and try not to hover over them like an over protective parent. The brief descriptions mentioned earlier, gear lists, pertinent backgrounds and archetypes also help. Plus at least an overview of the cultures, values, and religions. Religions mostly get a separate treatment since they are so closely tied to Faith in the system. The rest need to be peppered into the descriptions somehow.
In response to where are you going and what you interact with, this fortunately falls in line with the discussion of Points of Interest and Power Centers in Krendel's Building your Game chapter. The format seems to lend itself well to a gazetteer, especially when we add one more bullet point: questions. This expands each area by giving the reader something to think about and maybe even base adventurers around. It also makes it clear that although the world begins as my vision, its truly yours to muck around with.
OK so there's a format, now we just gotta fill in the blanks, and that's not as easy as it sounds. The format turns out to also give a nice checklist. What does it look like in the end, here's the current draft of a few things, a sneak preview. These are two of the ten features from the desert to the far northwest of "civilized" lands. This frontier nature makes them fun to play with, and I like to think that they open at least a couple of story opportunities. Of course, I'm sure I'll change details once I review it all months from now.
Towers of Erisia
These stone structures are said to be connected with Erisia's death and rebirth. One whispers in the wind, one sings in the wind, and one glitters in the sunlight with radiant beauty. One for each aspect of the goddess except agriculture. Only when they bloom again will the goddess be reborn.
The towers themselves have no uniform shape, being lumpy somewhat rounded things that stretch over a hundred meters into the sky without tapering. Although pockmarked and perforated, all of these potential entrances are well above ground, necessitating a dangerous climb to reach.
The land surrounding the towers is littered with shrines and temples constructed from quarried stone and, more often, wood from the wagons used by the caravaners who settle here. The priests that dwell in the shadows of the towers ask for donations of food and fresh water as no sustenance will grow here. The most prominent faction is that lead by the prophet Riveous Tawnset, whose followers are more radical than most of the devoted.
Beyond the faithful that make pilgrimages to the site, the towers have become a natural roosting point for both desert and migratory birds. These are considered holy animals and are not aggressive towards humans unless one tries to scale a tower. When this happens the birds swarm and strafe intruders who approach anywhere near their nests. It is common superstition that to be hit by bird droppings is a sign of favor, the blessing from which varies by the bird and where the faithful was struck.
- Supply: Birds, Faith, Frustration, Hope, Mystery
- Demand: Pilgrims, Renewal, Food, Water
- Questions: Are they really stone or are they stalks of giant, slumbering plants, all but destroyed by Tiordir’s fires and now covered in caked and hardened sand? Are they the ruins of ancient, vertical green houses or guideposts to someplace more significant? If they are hollow, what’s inside? What connection do they really have with Erisia? Does she sleep within one of them or maybe underneath? What are the true goals of each faction of the faithful?
A child when brought to the Towers of Erisia on her parents’ pilgrimage from Ravishan, Riveous witnessed their deaths as they tried to ascend the tower upon rickety constructs of wood and canvas. Orphaned, she wandered into the desert following voices she claimed were her parents. When she returned months later she was different. Though her body was still that of a child, her eyes spoke of great age and her voice rang the way only true orators and madman can manage. Her natural charisma and survival instinct have helped her emerge as the strongest leader of the settlers scattered in the shadows of the towers.
Riveous is, at best, only a passing adherent of Erisia and the Fandir doctrine. She holds herself out to be a prophet, a conduit, and a speaker for the divine, rather than a priest. Where she can channel divine energies, her true power stems from her force of personality, hidden savagery, and insanity.
More than one pilgrim to the towers have expressed the belief that Tiordir touched her mind, and more than one pilgrim has quietly disappeared, only to be found ravaged by the desert sands and insects.
- Objectives: More than anything, Riveous seeks to maintain and expand her power, and she will use any means necessary to do so. This has included disappearing outspoken detractors and sabotaging efforts to scale the towers until she is able to forbid them outright.
- Reasons: Although Riveous presents herself as a servant of Erisia and the protector of her faithful and the holy site, she is anything but. She cites senseless loss of life, including that of her parents, as to why it is forbidden to scale the towers, but she knows that someone else’s success would weaken her power over the true faithful. Because the truth is that Riveous only cares about Riveous, and her insanity removes any moral barriers to her actions.
- Disposition: Beneath a façade of burnished steel roils molten fury.
- Tools: Divine power, exceptional charisma, adherents with near blind loyalty, and limited command over the insects of the desert.
- Schedule: If she thought she could get away with it, Riveous would simply have the opposition leaders murdered in their sleep tomorrow. Instead she settles for slowly, but actively, eroding their power: removing, converting, or intimidating key supporters. If the situation is not changed, then she could very well succeed within ten years.
- Domain: The Towers of Erisia and their immediate environs.
- Results: If she succeeds, then she will reign over the desert, and the towers of Erisia will remain forever silent and unexplored.
- Questions: What did Riveous find in the desert as a child? What power does she channel? Are her actions truly driven by selfishness, or is something else guiding her? Does she have an ulterior motive to preventing everyone from exploring the towers? How secure is her position? If she could destroy the towers, would she
For a world setting guide, most of the points of interest and power centers will be high level stuff. For example, there won't be an entry for a particular inn or dojo within a city, but there would be one for the city itself, if it were important enough to warrant it. Individuals, like Riveous, only get mentioned if they truly standout within their region.
If you've read this far, then I've got questions. What do you think of that format? Does it give you enough information? What is missing? What would you take away?