Hullo, gentle readers. In this series of articles, we’re continuing to build our Beyond the Borderlands campaign for D&D Next. We put together our pantheon of deities last article, which, in turn, led us to naming and outlining some of the countries that we’d be including in this campaign. In this week’s article, we’ll continue to expand on some of these concepts, and we’ll begin to figure out where these countries exist in proportion to one another.
Mapping It Out
I want the cultures I imbue my various countries with to make sense, and to have a flavor of their own. In addition, I want there to be a certain verisimilitude in regards to how they interact with each other, geographically. There’s an easy little trick to this, thanks to the fact that I have an excellent model to work from – the real world.
Since I want to pattern my various human cultures with flavors of the medieval European landscape, it behooves me to look at the layout of medieval Europe. I begin by finding a blank map of Europe. Using the names of my countries, I jot names on the map roughly where the cultures were that my Known World is made up of in Europe. Because, in my mind, the Borderlands are to the east, I decide to flip the map 180 degrees. Then, I choose some of the non-human cultures I haven’t specifically come up with country names for. I ponder which human cultures they might most resemble, and I jot them on the map as well. When I’m done, I have a map that looks a lot like the image I included with this article.
When I ultimately build the map for this campaign, I won’t use what I have here as my world map, but it helps me to get an idea of the geography I’ll be dealing with.
Making an Ass Out of You and Umption
Having drawn in this rough little map lets me make some assumptions about the way these various cultures interact.
Just as Egypt, the various countries of Arabia and Persia, and Greece were some of the oldest cultures, I have little difficulty picturing Basaria, Nath-Hilum, and Aescelpos as older societies than the rest of the Known World. I place the high elves near them, as I consider them an older culture as well, and I put the Mountain Dwarves in near them, as the Atlas Mountain range makes its way through that area in our world, thus giving us an area that Mountain Dwarves would likely have found homey. This also puts them near Navarro, with whom they share a worship of the Smith. This isn’t the original location of Dwarvenhome, but it’s where the dwarves live now. I’m not yet sure where Dwarvenhome was. Plenty of other mountains to choose from. I also place the Rock Gnomes near the dwarves and Nath-Hilum, since they are followers of The Father, as the people of Nath-Hilum are.
Since I want my hill dwarves to have a Germanic/Scandinavian feel, I place them between Valkenholm and Kalemarran. This also puts them near Calengard, with whom they share a worship of The Knight. This allows me to place Calengard as southern England and France, which I like, since so many stories of Arthurian legend (the basis for Calengard’s culture) come from the French romances of Lancelot.
I noted the presence of the majority of Stout Halflings close to England’s Lakes District, because I think this is prime hobbit real estate. And in a little geography joke, I place the hidden valley of the kender in the mountains that separate Spain and France, because this is where the tiny kingdom of Andorra is in the real world.
I decide not to place dragonborn, tieflings, lightfoot halflings, or warforged on my map, because they’re either wanderers or have no fixed geography in my imaginings. I may change this later, but I’m leaving it as is for right now.
I like the spacing this gives me. While it suggests a lot of basic details that I like, it also leaves a lot of room for later additions, or to simply leave open as wild lands between these cultures.
I also like some gentle thoughts this geography suggests. If the lands that the forest gnomes and wood elves inhabit is like France, this suggests a densely wooded region, but one that’s lush, perhaps with many natural vineyards. The high elves inhabit the region that is modern-day Turkey. Does this suggest a similar architectural style, perhaps one that incorporates minarets, palaces, grand bazaars, and graceful temples to The Hermit? Do I imbue the rock gnomes and mountain dwarves with a vaguely North African feel? These are things to consider as I work on the campaign.
While I haven’t filled in details on my own map, the fake map I created using a world map gives me a general idea of where the different kingdoms I’ve posited in my campaign setting lay, and how they interact. I can choose to use real world parallels, or I can disregard them and move into something more fully realized as a fantasy setting, but I have plenty of time to make those decisions.
I’ve been doing a lot of high level pondering for the campaign, but now I want to dive down into the nitty-gritty and look at how I want the campaign to begin. For the next two articles, I’ll be taking the Keep on the Borderlands module and deciding on some of the important story and NPC roles. We know about the great Keeps on the Borderlands and how many of them have fallen into disrepair and ill repute. What is it about this Keep that makes it an interesting place for the players to begin their adventures? Who is the Castellan? And what’s going on at the Caves of Chaos that makes it a place where heroes are needed? We’ll find out soon.