Tag Archives: World Building

The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

I am currently building a Traveller sector. I am using the Mongoose Traveller rules as a basis, though I have modified them somewhat. First of, a word of warning: If you want to create a Traveller setting, do not be deceived by the simplicity of the statistics for each world. A sector can easily contain 400 or more worlds, and this results in a lot of work if you want to have some sort of consistent result.

First step: The Region

As you know, Traveller subsectors are arranged in a 4×4 grid within a sector.

As my first step, I decided how common stars should be in each subsector. I decided that my “core” subsectors should have a higher number of stars and that the periphery of Colonial Space should include some rift-like regions. I settled on this:

665-65-6
65-64-65-6
65-64-65-6
5-65-65-65-6

To give myself a better idea what the region of space looked like, I then drew the following small map of a 3×3 sector grid:

adjacentsectors3

Second Step: Star Placement

Next, I rolled whether each hex had a star system in it or not. And, yes, at this point I was still rolling dice. To make things faster, I rolled a bunch of d6 at one time and checked hexes off top to bottom. Needless to say this was a ridiculous approach; I should have just written a small script to roll up the sector. More on this later. At this point I had a hexmap with a lot of circles.

Third Step: System data

I quickly discovered that rolling actual system data took way too long to even contemplate doing it manually – there were too many dice modifiers involved, especially since I wanted to use the “realistic” optional rules in the hope that it would reduce the silly results I would get.

This is the point where I whipped together a simple awk script. It had no awareness of the actual layout of the sector, and it could not draw maps, so I spent another insane amount of time to center all those star system circles, colored them according to water/no water, and added spaceport classes.

I also added “trade routes” – basically just solid lines connecting A class ports that were in proximity of each other, and dashed lines connecting B ports to A ports and other B ports in their proximity. (Disregarding the Traveller 3rd Imperium jump limitations, as my FTL will work differently.)

Finally I used the result to sketch a rough border for my primary polity, an Empire (again, more on that later). At this point my map looked like this:

sector-maponlyI did have to refine my script multiple times during this process, to eliminate bugs as well as some glaring problems in the Traveller world creation system.

Step Four: Name That Star

After I had gathered data, the next step was to assign a name to every system. I had a bit of an easy start, because I had already gathered a list of 600+ potential names for colony worlds. Many of them were based on Earth locations, people etc which are not suitable for this setting. I did decide to leave in many of the mythology based names – out of necessity as much as anything else. So there’s no “New California”, for example, but a “Morrigan” and an “Uller”. Picking names, coming up with more names, and placing everything on the map took several days. I also began to draw additional borders for minor polities.

This is a snapshot of the work in progress.

sector03-maponlyAs an aside, I keep the world profiles and other related data in a LibreOffice spreadsheet for easier maintenance.

Step Five: Consistency and Detailing

After I had named all star systems, I began an interative process – this is where I am currently at. Basically, I am transcribing every system from the spreadsheet to a text document. At the same time I add Amber/red zones on the map, check for problems, and try to make sense of the results.

  • Why are the values as they are? – For example, if a world is a colony or captive government, who captured or colonized it, and why?
  • Are there values that make no sense? – Such as a vacuum world with a TL of 2 and 33 inhabitants. These results get fixed as I spot them.
  • Are there obvious implications, such as an Agricultural world next to a world with massive population?

One side effect of this process is that a number of smaller states have appeared on the map, for example the Atsinanana Star Empire – one clearly powerful world was sitting right next to two captive worlds.

As I type this, I have 8 out of 16 subsectors to go, but I picked the subsectors with fewer systems to start with – call it 40% done.

Lessons Learned So Far

Creating Traveller star maps is surprisingly much work. If I were to do it again, I’d do a few things differently:

  • Let the random generator handle more of the work; look into drawing maps automatically. If the script could produce a basic SVG, that would save days of work.
  • Change the world generation order. Traveller does some things right and some wrong. In my opinion, I should generate all the physical stats first, then decide a sort of habitability index, and then generate population and stats depending on population based on that. It could even easily be an iterative process, where all the nice worlds get colonized first, and then people spread out to less desireable worlds or to nice worlds that are further away. This could even result in a basic timeline.
  • Include stellar data and a few more odds and ends in the design sequence.

Current map WIP

sector12-maponlyMore on this setting will surely follow…

Another World Sneak Peek III

More cartography – Here’s the third version of the map I am currently working on:

Compared to the last update, this one is almost done, at least when it comes to basic geography. There’s a lot yet missing until i can truly call this one “done”.

The banners were just a spontaneous addition. No backstory exists yet for any of those nations or factions. I don’t really like most of these anyway, but they do help a lot in making the map more presentable.

Enderra World Update

The past weeks I’ve been working on collecting notes about Enderra, the fantasy world. I’m going through my written material, all the way back to the first notes about the world, and gathering it all up in one document in an attempt to create a concise and definitive world book about Enderra. I’m at the point where I “only” have the notes about adventures from the Enderran Dungeons & Dragons campaigns left, and the Tales from Enderra. The Tales were a series of sword & sorcery fiction I wrote in circa 1995, and they’re about 50,000 words in total. The adventure notes are much shorter, but there’s still a lot of material in them.

Even so, I’ve reached a nice milestone today: The new Enderra World Book is just over 30,000 words long. And that’s just existing material, I added very few “new” things to it.

As a little sneak preview I thought I’d share the all-new work-in-progress Enderra map with you guys. This pushes the history of Enderra about 30-50 years into the future from the 1999 D&D campaign.

I expect to be done with gathering “old” material in about a week or two, and then I’ll start editing it. From the looks of it, Enderra will become my first World Book after all. I also have a tentative plan for the first additional book for the Enderra setting, but I won’t reveal this just yet. đŸ˜‰

Stay tuned for more Enderran updates to come!

What I’m up to

I thought I’d give you a little update on current projects and status. The past year or so has been a little hard on me “in the real world” but all that is sorted out now and things are on the up again. On the other hand, it hasn’t left me so much time for world-building: Besides my new real-life job keeping me busy, NaNoWriMo ate up a lot of free time in November. That’s done and over, and with the holidays coming up I should have a good amount of time to write and build.

  • My Wacom tablet needs to be replaced, but I am not yet sure which one to get, and what size. They get expensive really quickly once you go beyond A6. I have some maps to draw!
  • I’ve been consolidating settings. At least two, probably three, and perhaps four of my worlds will be merged – details to follow…
  • I am totally into science fiction right now. This comes from reading everything H. Beam Piper that Gutenberg and Librivox could throw at me, but it is also related to finally playing role-playing games again; in this case we’re up to our ears in the Star Wars Saga Edition. I’m playing a shard in an IG-86 chassis with a severe identity crisis.
  • I’d like to complete short “world books” for what I consider my main worlds. Say something on the order of 48 pages each.
  • With the death of imaginaryworlds.net and the disappearance of Paul of the Shakespeare & Dragon podcast, I’d like to expand enderra.com to include more how-to’s, more discussion, more interactivity. This is more of a long-term goal, we’re definitely talking mid-2010 here. Anybody who’d like to get in on this, drop me a line…

A conworld, by any other name…

…you have to worry about it actually meaning something in another language. There was the anecdote of the car company – Volkswagen, I believe; but it does not matter – which tried to sell a car brand called “Nova” in Latin America. No Va meaning “doesn’t go” or even “doesn’t work” ruined their product for them.

Whether this story is true or not doesn’t matter any more than who made this mistake. It still means that any words you invents, especially names of important places like planets or your protagonist names – need to be checked on-line. Otherwise you may add just a little more humor to your setting than you’d like.

I guess I was lucky. One of our Turkish translators tells me that “enderra”, in Turkish, means “rare”.

I can live with that.

Update: I’ve found some additional meanings of “Enderra”.

Map of Thraeton

While I am on the topic of maps… The Map of Thraeton that I showcased last month is now done. That is, as done as it’s going to get without detailed world-building – the place names are mostly placeholders, and so on.

I think it came out quite well, if I may say so myself.

Bad Design: Torture in World of Warcraft

If you have played the Borean Tundra area in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft MMORPG, you probably came across the quest “The Art of Persuasion”.

In this quest, the player has to torture a prisoner to obtain information about the prisoner’s organization. This continues past the point where the NPC begs the player to stop, until he eventually reveals the location of a prisoner.

Stop! I beg you, please stop. Please…

When I reached this quest I was playing Juria, my sweet little innocent Gnome mage. Not only do I personally find torture disgusting; Juria would also never do any such thing. (In a perfect world, she would be a complete pacifist, but that is not a course of action that gets you far in World of Warcraft.) Quests in the game are completely linear “like it or leave it” affairs, so there was no option to refuse torture besides declining the quest. Since it seemed that the quest chain was important in the storyline progressing, and because I figured I’d have enough of an annoying time gaining enough experience points to level 80, I decided to simply do the quest. After all, I am capable of distinguishing between a vector model and a real human being.

I moved on with a bad aftertaste and eventually forgot about this quest until Pedro sent me a link to Richard Bartle’s blog posting criticizing the torture quest. Boy did Richard get a lot of (unjustified) FLAK for that, but he is of course completely right.

Games are – besides a fun activity – about teaching us something. Whether it is practicing one’s dexterity and reaction speed in a platform game, our logic or intuition in an adventure or puzzle game, or moral choices. This doesn’t mean games should be preachy, but when a choice can be made in the game, it should offer consequences for those actions and – ideally – reinforce correct moral choices.

The correct moral choice in this case is that “torture is bad”. This is a general consensus, and I would say that anybody who categorically disagrees with that statement has a serious mental problem. Humane treatment of humans and also of prisoners is the basic idea behind the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such works.

This is also the morality that should be valid inside the game’s fiction. While the Alliance has not always been a “force of good” (there are the Orc internment camps, after all), the Alliance as represented by the players in World of Warcraft is definitely a force of good. Likewise, the Horde is attempting to reform itself to become better people than the horde of the early Warcraft titles. Torture of prisoners is what the antagonists engage in: The Scarlet Crusade for example.

Blizzard does not offer the player any choice; they reward the player for incorrectly torturing the player. The character will gain experience points and gold and – though I haven’t done the math – it is possible that the quest is required for certain in-game achievements like “Complete x quests in Borean Tundra”. There is no necessity to actually torture the prisoner (he does not reveal anything crucial, nor anything that could not be found out in any other way). There are no consequences. The whole thing is meaningless.

Blizzard has passed up a great opportunity to let the player make a meaningful choice. They have failed to teach us anything, and, even worse, are teaching us something that is counterproductive. It would have been very easy to implement two alternate quest lines, one where the player accepts to torture the prisoner, and one where he does not, with appropriate in-game consequences. (For example, in The Burning Crusade, you can choose to follow either of two factions at one point, so it is possible to do this with the World of Warcraft engine.) The torture quest could be the “easy option”, but result in a penalty; the “humane” quest may be a lot more effort, but result in a greater reward.

As it stands, this one quest is a good example of how not to do quest design, and also a very revealing insight into the minds of the Blizzard game designers – and the many, many World of Warcraft players who have attacked Richard for stating that torture is a bad thing.