One of the most important aspects of creating a believable world, is developing a rich and colorful history. It is not enough to create a world, city or village and just expect your players to buy into it. If you look at our own world, you can see parallels in some current things, based on patterns from the past. Cultures grow and change, Forests thrive or vanish and even land masses change. While you may not have to go so in depth as to account for inches lost along the regional coast lines, it is important to create a past for your world.
So far in our series we have been developing a single region. The region contains a dozen or so settlements, a small mountain range to its north, a prominent forest and at least one river. The village of Newton and the town of Heraford (being part of this region) have witnessed many things over the years. So how did these settlements come to pass? what has happened in the region that has shaped the citizens way of life? Lets begin by once again making a few basic observations, and some notes.
Firstly I need to decide on a time line. lets say the current year is 2360. This would mean that technically I have two thousand three hundred and sixty years of history to account for. That sounds like a daunting task, but in reality it is not. History is remembered by its significant moments, and not the day to day actions of the people or the regular daily involvements of nature. What we have to decide is the key moments in our worlds history, and in particular (for now) the ones that pertain to our region. At this point I do not need to create every event in our time line, I only need to think about anything monumental and big enough to have had a direct impact on the region we are developing. I do not want my region to be too new, but at the same time it is clearly not one of the oldest and most developed regions in the world. I am going to make a few notes to help me flesh out a time line at this point.
I decide my region became settled in as part of a conquest. Six hundred years ago this region was populated by only a few tribes of humans and by many more goblins that it has dwelling in it today. I decide that the settlers came from the west, and as such my earliest settlements would have developed in that direction. The city that I placed in my region is in the west, so It makes viable sense that it began as a village six hundred years ago, and has grown up over time to become the city it is today. The settlers spread eastwards and it would probably take a few generations or so before they may have settled where Heraford is situated so maybe Heraford began as a village four hundred years ago. Newton is close to Heraford so maybe it was only one hundred years later when they began to settle on the banks of the river and create a village. This would put Newton being about three hundred years old as a village. Of course during this time they were also spreading North and Southward too. In making these notes I answer a few questions for myself, but raise new ones. For example why did the folk of Heraford branch out and create Newton? Well lets assume that as the original settlement village grew and expanded in the west, some pioneers wanted a chance to improve their lot in life so left and traveled east and settled in a new location. over time this happened again but each time they would not want to be too far from civilization, and the safety of being close to an established settlement. In this way Heraford was created. Discovering the river, and the forest, it was natural for the people to travel (almost a day) to gather, hunt and fish. However the forest being still very dangerous at that time would have dissuaded anyone from settling right next to it. Now over time as the goblins were driven north, and other unsavory creatures became less commonly seen, a few brave folk decided to set up an outpost at the edge of the forest and on the river to help facilitate gathering for Heraford. They would have had several skirmishes I am sure, and it would have been a tough start. Over time it would have became easier, and more and more people would end up staying at the outpost. This is how Newton started out and today it is a thriving village.
You see how this thought process works. If you examine your region and look at the land features, you will see reasons for why settlements should or should not exist. Also about now you may be looking back at some of the original decisions you made with placing settlements or land features and may wish to rethinks a few things. You may also rethink some of the relationships between towns. For example. It would seem sensible to me now that as Newton grew from an outpost that belonged to Heraford, it is logical that the small council in Newton answers to the Council in Heraford. I should also probably increase the number of families that have members in both locations too.
So far we have some local timelines started but we need more. We decided that the region developed and became civilized after a conquest. This would be a major Historical event so we need to flesh that out a little. Six hundred years ago clearly we had a conflict. Who (if anyone) ruled this region then? Who conquered it? Well as we already decided until then, this region was home to only a few human tribes, and many goblins, it would seem logical that the goblins were probably the closest thing to rulers that the region possessed. So it would become clear that the conflict was between some humans from the west, and the goblins. I am going to decide that this region was home to six different goblin tribes, and the largest of which had a king named Rablegash the mighty. The region to the west is large and a domain for human kind. It is (at that time) going to be ruled by Horace Vamillion the third. So six hundred years ago we can say that King Horace came into conflict with the goblin tribes and undoubtedly King Rablegash. Why did this happen would be my next question? I decide that the goblin tribes were growing, and tribal in fighting over territory was becoming more frequent. This lead to the tribes expanding their domains and some of them began to encroach on King Horace’s lands. Initially they were small skirmishes and raids but it soon became to frequent for King Horace to ignore. At this point, King Horace decided that defending his borders was becoming to time consuming and problematic so he decreed that he would route out the goblin menace and crush it at the source. He marched his army into the goblin lands and over a three year campaign he crushed the majority of the goblin menace and saw King Rablegash slain at the battle of Rocky creek. The remaining goblins fled North or hid in the mountains.
Right their my little story creates the basis the basis for a historical event. It also means I need to add a special feature (Rocky Creek) to my region and ensure that most in the region know its significance. I will continue to come up with interesting historical events in this way to cover the last six hundred years. Maybe one hundred years ago there was a small goblin uprising as some of the goblins left the mountain and had to be vanquished? Maybe this occurred because deep in the mountains the goblins are running out of room? Maybe that deep cavern I added back in part 3 leads to an underground goblin kingdom? I also need to go back further in history. While the last six hundred years will be of most significance to our region, the world was shaped by events and deeds way before that. I should consider developing King Horace’s lineage as part of this too, and there are always notable events in the history of a royal family. I could go on giving examples here, but you get the idea of how to develop a time line by now. If you keep coming up with ideas, writing them down in note form and then answering any logical questions that these notes raise, you will have a good basic chronological time line which you can continue to develop over time. I always like to leave a few decent gaps between some events, to allow myself the freedom to add historical events later. Some times (during game play) I see an opportunity for a great adventure hook that would benefit from a certain historically significant event, so I enjoy having the freedom to create it and fit it into my time line.
You can see how developing a history lends towards helping develop the current world. These historical events bring the world to life with a much needed sense of depth. The players of this world can draw from this historical knowledge. They may decide to go into the caverns to investigate and see if there is indeed a pending goblin threat, or they may be hired to do so. They may decided to scour Rocky Creek for lost items or may discover that some of the fallen warriors from the battle six hundred years ago have been seen wandering at night. Simple historical additions create opportunities for adventure hooks that can be employed by both players and Dungeon masters alike. In an organic free flowing game or (unstructured game) where the players decide more freely what they wish to do, and adventures are not given to them so linearly by the Dungeon Master, this kind of world development becomes essential. You can not progress successfully to this kind of advanced game play without a well developed world!
In the next part of this series we will look at fleshing out the details of your regions special features…….
Happy world building.