Category Archives: Worldbuilding

Weird West Points of Light

The other genre that Points of Light fits really well – besides Post Apocalypse – is The American Frontier. Wild West, in other words. The basic idea is nothing new – Weird West has been around for a long time.

Weird West combines our own world’s Wild West with supernatural elements and themes. Sometimes to a lesser, sometimes to a greater extent. But it’s still – mainly – a Wild West story.

The (probably) more accurate term, Fantasy Western (cf “Space Western”) isn’t widely used – probably because there are few examples of the subgenre, but also because there is so much overlap with other types of Weird Western. Fantasy and the Wild West are good matches for each other, really. The cowboys have much in common with knights or paladins. Put Conan on a horse (actually, he does use horses) and give him a revolver and he’d feel right at home in Monument Valley. And Elves have been used as a Native American stand-in before.

A Kenku Cowboy. Made with HeroForge.

I think the iconography is the strongest element of this. Elves with rifles. Orcs with sixshooters. Cowboy Kenku. Hell yes.

Elven woman with rifle and bullwhip. Made with HeroForge.

There are some issues, too. If you want to create an actual Western, you gotta have much higher technology than your normal D&D fantasy setting. Guns – you could substitute magic wands but at least for me that just doesn’t work – as well as railroads, and perhaps telegraphs and riverboats. Not in itself impossible, but once you add technology to a magical setting, you can’t avoid the question of how magic and technology combine. You end up with steam- or magipunk, and again, at least for me, that doesn’t quite work.

Post-Apocalyptic Points of Light

As I was contemplating what to do with Enderra, I remembered the D&D 4th Edition “Points of Light” setting. Points of Light has specific, if fairly typical, D&D assumptions.

After mulling them over, I realize that not only did this describe most D&D settings (there are exceptions), it describes most settings where the “wilderness” dominates. Fallout? Points of Light in a nuclear wasteland. The American West? Points of Light in the arid regions of a world without magic.

When we think “post-apocalyptic”, we usually think of nuclear war and its aftermath. For my generation, that was the most likely scenario for the end of civilization; these days, we can add climate change to the list. Nuclear wars and other world-ending calamities have been a popular excuse for introducing magic and elves to Earth for a long time.

However, threats to all of civilization, even the world or at least life on it, have always been a staple of Fantasy fiction – and gaming. So what if the unthinkable happens, evil triumphs, and wipes out everything that we hold dear? Boom. Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy.

While some settings do feature this in some fashion – ancient civilizations that disappeared in some great catastrophe, either natural or man made, only to leave behind treasure-laden ruins – I believe few, if any, settings play this straight.

The heavy stone door, fashioned by Dwarven artisans to withstand anything and everything, trembled and shook, then slowly slide aside. Bright daylight entered the ancient vault for the first time in a century. One by one its inhabitants emerged, shielding their eyes against the sun.
“What do you know,” said the Fighter. “The wizards got it right. The stasis field worked. We’re alive!”
“The same can’t be said of the others,” the Ranger replied. The others followed his gaze. Far below them, a field of moss-covered ruins littered the floor of the valley. Trees poked through the ancient stonework, swaying gently in the summer breeze.
“That’s the Capital City, isn’t it?” the Bard asked. “By the Gods, it feels like we left only days ago!”

Obviously, the characters do not have to be “vault dwellers”, they could be regular survivors or the descendants of the same. You can lift any sort of post-nuclear fiction, theme, or location, remove the high tech aspects, and put them directly into a fantasy setting. The “points” in “points of light” are the few civilized settlements. Everything else is a vast Wasteland of magical mutants, marauding monsters, and rampaging raiders.

Shakespeare and Dragons Podcast

Sometimes you find gems when you least expect it. I was actually looking for a good domain name to use for this weblog when I came across this world-building podcast.

Shakespeare & Dragons is run by Paul Stark. Paul is an English teacher from California with aspirations to becoming a professional world builder. He takes a story-based approach to building worlds, which is a little different from the usual “scientific” approach to Conworlds.

Paul has published 15 episodes so far (plus a “donation reward” special dealing with monster design). Unfortunately, his publishing schedule is very irregular, but what’s already available is quite interesting and really worth the time to download: If you’re a world-builder, this podcast is two thumbs up. But even regular game masters can take a lot of value from it, as they will have to create stories just the same. Highly recommended. And do send Paul some feedback, so he is motivated enough to continue working on the podcast.

Update, 2011-09-16: It appears the website is now gone as well. The episodes are still out there, I will create a page to access them more easily.

Update, 2015-11-26: Never revisited the post, I got permission from Paul to host the podcast’s archive.