Category Archives: Worldbuilding

RPGBA Carnival – Unusual Dungeons – Wrap-Up

May comes to an end, and so does the Unusual Dungeons RPG Blog Carnival.

After a somewhat slow start, we’ve had a number of submissions:

James Introcaso was the most prolific contributor this month, supplying us with a series about a prison for dragons:

And from myself:

Phil, from Tales of a GM, is taking over for June – with the appropriate subject “Summerland” (Summer in RPGs). Take it away, Phil!

(And of course, if you’d like to read up on past carnivals or check on future subjects, head on over to the RPGBA Carnival archive page.)

Links for May 2015

I have some links for you, for a change:

E2015: The Moons of Enderra

Back when I first designed Enderra, I decided that it had three moons and a (thin) ring system. I did this mostly for the imagery, not really thinking about the consequences much. Multiple large moons can have severe effects on the planetary environment. Universe Today has a summary of some of the effects of adding a second, Moon-sized, moon to Earth.

White Moon, Meet Red Moon

The scenario they describe is extreme, and I am not quite sure where they get some of their numbers (tides “thousands of feet” in height seem off) but I am sure they know more about this stuff than I do. Anyway, even with lessened effects, I have come to think of three moons as excessive.

At the same time, I do like the “exotic” visuals. Let’s ditch one moon and the ring system.

Enderran Moons . Size Comparison
Enderran Moons . Size Comparison

I’ve done some math to make sure the moons don’t cause huge problems. I mostly used GURPS Space for this, since I couldn’t find formulas easily, and ran the numbers for the Moon (of Earth) through the same process – for verification. Even when the two moons align, their effect on tides should be at most twice that of Earth’s Moon. The actual tidal levels, though, depend a lot on geography and local conditions. Yes, we will have some tides that are more extreme than on Earth, but it won’t mess with the fundamental state of affairs. Nights will be a bit brighter, and there will be a little bit more volcanism on Enderra than on Earth.

Both moons are tidally locked to Enderra – that is, they always show the same face to Enderra. The White Moon’s synodic month is 30.33 days, the Red Moon’s is 43.22.

What’s in a Name?

The two moons are simply named “the Red Moon” and “the White Moon”, similar to how Earth’s moon is just called “the Moon”. I might give them name later (the three original moons had names) but I think I like the simplicity of “Red Moon” and “White Moon”.

E2015: Revisiting Enderra

Planet drawn with Inkscape
Planet drawn with Inkscape

Oh, Enderra. You were my first fantasy world. I named this site after you. And yet, I have neglected you for a decade. I am sorry.

I’ve recently been in the mood to do some fantasy world-building again. Part of it is that I’d really like to get back into gaming; part of it is a desire to get rid of all those post-Enderran attempts at fantasy worlds that are cluttering my Worldbuilding folder. And part of it is that I’ve been doing too much Science Fiction in the past few years.

And there’s another reason. My nephew is going to be old enough to start gaming in a few years. I should prepare for that.

Enderra is now over twenty years old. It was created, more or less ad-hoc, for a GURPS Fantasy campaign, but it’s been used with my own D&D clone rules, Tunnels and Trolls, AD&D 2nd, D&D 3rd, and even TORG. We played campaigns of our own invention and “official” modules. The Temple of Elemental Evil, to me, is not in Greyhawk – it’s in Eastern Enderra.

Enderra already went through one major revision, in circa 1999 when we started our D&D campaign. I had not been happy with some of the decisions I had originally made, so I advanced the timeline and changed a lot of stuff around.

So – what are my goals for Enderra 2015?

Since Enderra is not actively used by anybody, and I have published very little of my material, I feel like I can afford to reshape the setting from the ground up – apply everything I have learned about world-building in the past twenty years. One of the lessons I learned is that it really helps to have design goals and guidelines:

  1. Enderra Is Real: Well, it’s of course not really real; but the approach should always be that “this is not a game” – Enderra is a parallel earth, and can easily be found in a universe one phase shift away from our own, if you just know how. I believe that treating it as “real” will help make the right design decisions.
  2. Enderra must be internally consistent: This is really my number one golden rule for worldbuilding. Everything must make sense inside the setting. If there’s a Raise Dead spell, then why isn’t the world ruled by immortal kings? Or is it? Hmmm!
  3. Enderra shall not be a kitchen sink. Do you remember Eberron? “If it exists in D&D, it exists in Eberron”. Or consider RIFTS. Kitchen sink settings rarely work out well.
  4. Enderra is not a hexcrawl: Hexcrawls might be compelling, but a world consists of more than random hexes filled with combat encounters. Enderra is a place, its inhabitants lead lives, plot against each other, wage wars… I’ll use the story-based approach described by Paul in the Shakespeare & Dragons Podcast.
  5. There are no holy cows: I’ve got a lot of material and notes about Enderra. I have even more in my head. I will re-use material where I can, but if there’s a better way to do something then I will change it.
  6. Enderra shall be a fantasy setting that works with D&D and its clones.  This doesn’t mean that much, considering how archetypical D&D really is. It does imply certain assumptions, for example how magic works, and will guide certain thematic or stylistic choices.
  7. Enderra must be compatible with Contact Light: Enderra is the “lost homeworld” of the Contact Light setting. This places some minor restrictions on my design – for example, I can’t turn Enderra into a Ringworld.
  8. Produce a publishable World Book: By publishable I don’t mean “for sale”, but my end product should be a campaign guide that other people can use. This places some limitations on the scope of the work, and above all, provides me with a measurable goal.

Let’s get cracking.


Unusual Dungeon #2: Treetop Village

Treehouse_at_Milne_Bay_-_Papua_New_Guinea_-_1884-1885This is another, actually relatively common, dungeon type that still makes for a great change of pace: A treetop village. Probably the most famous example would be the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi, but they’re really all over the place, especially since many authors like to use them for Elves. The Channelwood Age from Myst is also an example of this.

But Nils, you might say, a village isn’t a dungeon! And you’d be right, for any normal village. A treetop village features the same limited movement than an underground dungeon does (provided your party can’t fly). Sure, characters could try to jump across chasms or improvise rope bridges, but that’s the sort of drama and problem solving that makes an adventure fun.

 Why go there?

I think an “intact”, that is inhabited, treetop village doesn’t work well – the inhabitants will be able to communicate easily and mount an effective defense; our intrepid adventurers would fight wave after wave of defenders. Fun, but not your usual dungeon crawl. It also means any sort of hostage rescue is out of the question – the occupants could just kill the captives at the first sign of trouble.

A better approach is probably to use an abandoned treetop village. Maybe oversized spiders or some other wildlife inhabits it now. Maybe a villain on the run is hiding in it. And maybe the locals simply left something of value behind. Druidic artifacts or some other form of nature magic probably works best, but just because these guys lived in trees does not mean they did not like gold.

Who’re we fighting?

Any sort of animal or monster capable of flying or climbing. Giant spiders, semi-sentient vampire bats, twig monsters. If it has a place in a forest and can make it up, it can be a possible monster in a treetop village dungeon.


D&D Gold Coins

On Earth, 174,100 tonnes of gold have been mined in total throughout human history. D&D 5th Edition defines the weight of gold coins as “50 to a pound”, or 110.231 coins per kilogram. This means that your average D&D campaign world can have a maximum of about 19.2 billion gold coins hidden away in dark dungeons.

Talk about monty haul.

RPG Blog Carnival: Unusual Dungeons

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallA ‘dungeon’ is a room or cell in which a prisoner is kept. Traditionally, it is where evil overlords keep the fair maiden until the knights in shining armor come to her rescue. In fantasy role-playing games, the term ‘dungeon’ quickly expanded to mean any underground complex which the players explore in a structureed format; often, examining it room by room rather than in a story driven fashion – even when a backstory drives this explanation.

This has led to the dungeon becoming perhaps the biggest trope of the hobby, and one of the things every GM strives to do is break the formula – provide interesting settings, variations, and breaks from the pattern, while often keeping the convenience of dungeon-based game-play. Additionally, a classic dungeon is not appropriate for all genres.

I’ve always been a fan of dungeon delving, of cave exploration; from the old Red Box introduction dungeon to Undermountain, from the asteroid mines of Ceres to the fallen ruins of the Venusian space elevators. This month, I’d like to invite you to join me in exploring unusual dungeons – be it by location, theme, design, or any other element that you think makes a dungeon interesting and stand out from the usual mold.

If you write an article on the subject, please post a comment with a link below to share your work with others! (I need to approve comments, but I will do so at least once a day.)

Happy dungeon exploration, everybody!


A New Year, A New World Roundup

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallJanuary came and went and it’s time to close our “New Year, New World” Blog Carnival. With a slow start, we still got a number of really cool – and in some cases very long – entries. Posts were, in chronological order:

Thank you all for participating! Be sure to check out February’s carnival, over at Leicester’s Ramble, on the topic of How/Where You Write/Prep.

If you’ve got any late articles, please post below or on the original post and I’ll add you to the list. I’ll also continue building my small colonial setting over the next months.

A New World, Part 4: Mapping the Coastline

Now that I know a little about the situation of our colonists, I’d like to know what the geography is like. Usually, I make up my maps from complete stretch, but the other days I saw a map of Sumatra on the BBC News site and I decided that its eastern coast looks pretty awesome. The New World setting being a fairly small one, I thought it’d be quite okay to actually use Sumatra and modify it.

The source map I picked is one provided by Wikimedia, and is public domain. (Always respect other people’s copyrights!)

I set up an Inkscape document with dimensions of 420x594mm, that’s DIN A2 format. This will allow me to create enough detail for a medium-sized posted map, if I so wish, and I can easily halve the size to make it an A3 size for a 2-page spread in a booklet or magazine. Landscape format for the same reason. I realize that I am probably overthinking it, but then, it doesn’t hurt.

My Inkscape Setup
My Inkscape Setup

Normally, you’ll want to avoid using real geographic features as much as possible, despite it having a long tradition (the D&D pioneers based their settings off a fantasized version of the USA), because humans are insanely good at recognizing patterns and players will spot your sources. All my settings are “officially” parallel Earths, though, so at least I have a rationale for it.

Tracing the coast
Tracing the coast

As you can see I trace the coastline in many small sections; this is so I can do it zoomed in. I don’t try to match it precisely, and I am ignoring the islands off the coast for now. A little filling action later, and we have ourselves an east coast.

First Draft of East Coast
First Draft of East Coast

It looks bland at this stage, but that’s okay. Do note two things: One, I’ve marked a possible site for the colony. Two, the coast is not contiguous in the south and extends “off map”. This could be a bay, or the New World might be split by a strait. I’ll leave this up for later.

Now it’s time to add higher elevations. I add rivers first, because I find it helps to use them as a guide for mountains rather than the other way around. For the elevation colors, I am re-using the palette I used for my Northern Territory map. In the following screenshot, I’ve filled in some preliminary mountains – as you can see, each “height range” is a separate layer. In this map, they are abstract levels, but on some maps I go by numerical height bands.

Going Vertical
Going Vertical

Note that only the coastal layer has an outline (dark blue) to provide better contrast; all higher elevations have no outlines because here I find outlines to be distracting.

Looking at the map, it does seems too sterile. Let’s add some quick islands.

You gotta have islands
You gotta have islands

And there we have it, a nice, fairly dynamic coastline, some cool islands that beckon, and you almost can’t tell that it was Sumatra once. To see how it works as a hexcrawl, I added a 0.5 inches hexgrid to the map. I use an online SVG hexmap generator, open the resulting SVG file, group all elements and copy them over into a new layer.

Hexgrid Overview
Hexgrid Overview

And a zoom:


I am, if I may humbly say so, quite happy with how this turned out. Next time, I will work on the interior – and work on some local details.


A New World, Part 3: What’s the Colony Like?

Log_Cabin_BAHAccording to Wikipedia, it took the Mayflower pilgrims three weeks to build their first common house, 6×6 meters in size. They were severely hampered by disease. They assigned single men to families to reduce the number of houses that needed to be built. They completed their initial settlement another month later, with 30+ people dead (about 25%).

In the case of the lost colony, there is no major disease (our settlers have it hard enough), but a severe shortage of food and other supplies, and unrest among the refugees.  The group is also much larger, so ideal logs for building have to be brought in from further afield, or less ideal trees used. The refugee fleet was not as well prepared as the original fleet, but there are some woodworking tools on any (wooden!) sailing ship.


How many houses does the settlement need? Assume six to eight people per house, or 250-330 buildings. Some of these will be common houses, storage barns, and the like. The available land will be split into long, stretches; the house is at the front of the grant, at the roadside; the rear will presumably used for agriculture. Common houses will be clustered in the center of the colony, near the waterside. There are native tribes in the New Lands, but none survive nearby; with food and shelter an urgent matter and the settlement being fairly large, the town will not build any defensive structures.

As a side note, I realize that 2000 people is a lot. That’s basically the entire population of the Thirteen Colonies in 1625. However, with contact with the old world completely lost, 2000 people is a very, very small population – perhaps too small to survive in the long run. I also decided that I’d like to have the main colony have some semblance to a real town.


The colonists had a while to set up before the refugees arrived. The less time before winter arrives, the fewer houses will be built; this means more overcrowding and might also mean that the buildings that are built are closer together. It also leaves less time for foraging and creates a greater strain in the colony.


The colonists explored the coast for a short while, maybe a few weeks, until they found a suitable spot (they also tried to find the site of the original outpost, since some maps of that area existed and a few native settlements there were known to be friendly). Features: Defensible hill, old growth forest, a protected natural harbor, and a river. (The river for easier transportation and travel inland, and for building watermills.)


The settlement is governed by the leader of the original colony fleet, let’s use the term “Governor”. He is authorized – by the King personally – to run the colony in the King’s name. He is supported by a handful of officers and administrators, and ten men-at-arms. Another few dozen “trusted” men make up the settlement’s militia, though of course in any larger attack everybody who can hold a weapon (or a club) is expected to help in the defense. It is noteworthy that no members of the refugee group serves as guards or militiamen.


The original fleet carried some crops and some livestock – especially the later is among the most valuable property of the colony. A few cows, chicken, sheep, pigs. None of these will be used for food, as they are needed for breeding.

Both fleets also brought cats (to keep rats and mice in check) and dogs (as guard dogs). I am considering to omit horses and donkeys,; locating an animal suitable for riding or as a beast of burden could be a priority for the colony.

Tools are “colonial” property and issued as needed. Anything anybody owned privately that was deemed useful for the colony was confiscated, with promises of payment “if and when” the colony survived.

Ships: The colonists probably stripped a few ships for supplies. Some ships might be suitable for fishing. Two – with minimum crew – were sent back to the old world, they have not yet returned. Some others are used to explore the coast.


There’s no official currency. Some people barter for what little surplus there is, or use old world gold and silver coins. Most other metals are way too useful for tool-making to be used for coins. Written IOU’s are used in some cases.


The settlement needs a name. I was thinking “KIng’s Cove”; there are a real life King’s Cove in Canda and a King Cove in Alaska. I think that’s okay. The colony was named before the arrival of the refugees, so it will have a “normal” colony name, and not anything connected to its status as a refugee camp.