Humanoids, Part I: Giving Humanoids a Raison d'être

Another issue frequently blogged about in the D&D and OSR blogosphere is the neverending variety of humanoids in D&D and their vague distinctions. Goblins,hobgoblins,bugbears,orcs,gnolls,kobolds,orogs,etc. It seems Gygax basically made a critter for each minor increment of hit dice - Their differing roles otherwise being trivial. I've struggled myself with this as well - What really distinguishes orcs from hobgoblins? What is the point of having kobolds and goblins? I think I have landed at what I feel is satisfactory writeup for the various humanoids that makes them distinct and gives me a reason to have them in the world. Partly because I've identified what I think is one of the main issues with the various humanoids - It is never clearly defined how they relate differently to humanity. I found that once I started thinking about these races having a history and then focusing on their ecology as they impact humanity, gave me inspiration to start writin

Maxims for Writing the History of a World

Fantasy history is a tricky thing. As a teenager,I remember pouring the timelines and stories of worlds like Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Mystara and Faerun - The inconsistencies were a point of fascination, a sign that the world was not fully 'known'. Studying the history of the setting was a big part of the setting for me. These days, I have to admit I find it less interesting. Mostly because I am no longer as enchanted by the history of a setting in and of itself, but rather what it brings to the present setting. 1st Maxim: Only tell the history of how the present day came to be. This is an important maxim when writing history, that I failed to observe for a long time writing the timeline for Erce. It was hopelessly detailed with my own little vignettes of the ancients, but far too little of it told the reader anything about the present day of the setting.  2nd Maxim: Preserve the sense of Mystery. Writing history with a sense of mystery tends to make for more ev

Fantasy Map Review VI: Nentir Vale

For links to all instalments in this series,  go here . For the sixth instalment, we visit Nentir Vale, the default setting of 4e. I must admit, I steered well clear of 4e for a long time. But the fluff of it possibly the strongest OSR credentials of any editions. It is eminent and at times simply brilliant. First Impressions:  I like it. As a starting DM I feel like this map is much more relate-able than the other maps. This evokes feelings more like the  Domain of Greyhawk , where the local campaign asserts its relevance evocatively on the map. Further Thoughts:  In scale, it is more reminiscent of  Middle Earth , but, unlike ME, it has a sense of  locations  that give PCs a sense of the area they are exploring. Although not as flavorful as  ME, it does give a sense of being enough for a local campaign for ant adventurers who aren't too afflicted with wanderlust. For the far thinking explorer it falls short quickly. But it knows what it wants to be. And, unlike 4e forg

Fantasy Map Review V: Birthright

For links to all instalments in this series,  go here . For the fifth instalment, we come to Cerilia of the Birthright setting. And I move from admiration to love. First Impressions:  I first became aware of birthright when the  Birthright Conspectus  was included in one of the boxed sets I bought at the time, which included the fullsized map above. It was, simply put, love at first sight. I adored the the woodlands, the mountains, the colour scheme and the stapled borders  - It seemed like a world truly alive. More than anything, it was the map that made me want to know more about this setting. Further Thoughts: This is is still one of my favourite maps, maybe my alltime favourite. Although the scale of Cerilia is clearly more localised than Faerun or even the Flanaess , the sense of there being plenty of opportunity for exploration and adventure is developed with stunning level of detail instead - Where the Forgotten Realms gives a sense of never running out of new land

Fantasy Map Review IV: Forgotten Realms

For links to all instalments in this series,  go here . For the fourth instalment is yet another iconic map piece - Faerun. I've gone for the 3rd edition one as that is probably the most widespread one out there and also (imo), the best. Ed greenwood does a lot of the same things right as Gygax did with his Flanaess map. He understands that placement of seas as separators; points that cultures congregate around; and routes that open up and connects different adventuring areas really makes a difference to a good map. He nails it with the Sea of Fallen Stars and the multitude of bays, lakes and reaches that feed into it. One boat can set sail in the sea of salt in Mulhorand in the deep south and meet up in the Sea of Fallen Stars with a vessel that started from the tortured lands near the great glacier, passing through Damara, Vaasa and Impiltur before entering the sea proper. Great stuff. What is really striking about this map is the scale of it. It feels larger than th

Fantasy Map Review III: Dragonlance

For links to all instalments in this series, go here . Next up is another map many will know but few have praised - The map of Ansalon from the 2nd edition Dragonlance boxed set "Tales of the Lance". First Impressions: My initial impression is not as favourable as the preceeding ones, but there are still some interesting things going on here: The gulf of the new sea tells a story about how kingdoms shape up in central ansalon. Southern Ergoth looks like a kickass island of adventure. And I want to know more about that southwestern strip of the mainland bordering Southern Ergoth. I'd also like to know more about those island kingdoms up in the northeast corner. And what's going on around the Bay of Balifor? Besides that, the north and south just sort of... end, with wastelands at each end (plains of dust/Icewall, Northern Wastes/Nordmaar). The bloodsea puts a downer on what could have been an eastern Ansalon full of vitality. And the centre of the mainland

Fantasy Map Review II: Greyhawk

For links to all instalments in this series,  go here. Second instalment in the series gives a strong showing with another iconic example - The Flanaess as depicted in the World of Greyhawk Folio from 1980: First Impressions: It is with a certain amount of awe that I delicately unfold my original Darlene maps from the Greyhawk folio - Still in top notch shape after 35 years thanks to the sturdy paper the folio edition were printed on. From a gamer's perspective, you can't ask for more  - They are huge, sturdy enough to take to the table and have a lot going on. Not as beautiful and flavourful as Middle Earth, but still a work of art. And hex-mapped. All awesome. Further Thoughts:  The Flanaess is to me the gold standard of how to draw up a setting map. No borders are drawn and none are needed. The geography naturally points out how regions are shaped and interact with each other. You can learn a lot about the Flanaess just from this map: The Sheldomar Valley countri