Our second installment in the Crux development series will attempt to demonstrate how we do our worldbuilding and how we’d get from a basic concept and expand it out to fit it into a setting, in this case, over the course of an afternoon. We’ll normally spend a little longer doing so, but this ought to serve as an example. Here goes nothing:
Tom: Throwaway example: A settlement built among the aftermath of a tidal wave hitting your steretotypical fantasy city.
Matt: Yep, let me ponder that. Are we talking typical D&D fantasy?
Tom: Yeah, so soaring towers, spires and implausible architecture.
Matt: Right, so I’m picturing any towers still standing being a bit crowded.
Tom: …those that aren’t are toppled or listing.
Matt: Depending on how long the floodwaters stay around, possibly to the point of having jutting platforms added on the sides, sort of scaffold – ghettos.
Tom: I was going a similar way, possibly even to a treehouse-village wrapped around the sides of buildings, possibly constructed from shipwrecks that have been cast inland.
Matt: Also, given that this is a fantasy world you’re likely to find that more than just fish and silt wash up in the tsunami.
Tom: Dispossessed aquatic sentients?
Matt: In fact, just for the sake of it lets say, that there’s the ruins of some atlanean mega-civilisation nearby, and the tsunami basically scraped the seabed of their surviving relics and dumped them on the land amongst all the detritus.
Tom: Just to add to the already ramshackle debris lying around. So, there’ll be no shortage of construction material…
Matt: A large portion of which could be valuable, some of which may be… malfunctioning.
Tom: Some of it could be working as intended, but really not in a way conducive to people living nearby. So what we’re looking at is two cities having a head-on collision under several million tons of water. And, owing to typical fantasy handwaving, we have survivors on both sides.
Matt: Nice, that’s an interesting place to explore already. It’s got desperate people who are going to need heroes (you), treasure and traps potentially anywhere, sociopolitical conflict…
Tom: Would the end-result settlement be the results of two factions building their new homes together, and them meeting in the middle? Say, at the waterline? And it can be a massive 3-d dungeon affair in terms of mapping – All the rigging, rope swings and parkour!
Matt: Maybe, but only after the players have brokered some kind of treaty, I think it makes for a more fun situation to enter it when things are a bit desperate and antsy. The atlanteans want their stuff back, the surfacers need atlantean stuff to make new lives for themselves and vaguely suspect the atlanteans of being responsible for the tsunami in the first place.
Tom: Okay. We join them in a ‘feuding neighbours’ situation. Neither is really in a situation to make aggression towards the other, but, as their opposite numbers are different, neither side trusts the other.
(There have been many different cities called Atlantis, all of them believing to be the original one, and nobody knows any different, leading to several feuds between underwater civilisations, so much so, that any relics that wash up from an underwater civilisation is referred to as “Atlantean’, as a generic term).
Matt: Basically “…and their hubris grew too great and they were swallowed by the sea” is the endpoint for many civilisations of high sophistication, a bit like how the reason often given for why there seems to be far fewer alien races than the drake equation predicts is “and then they developed nuclear weapons”.
Tom: It does tend to thin the herd, somewhat. “Hey, guys! Look what I made. Remember those people we don’t like?”
…and it goes downhill from there.
Matt: Perhaps the sea itself is a malevolent entity. Like a lot of people are annoyed at the “medieval stasis” of fantasy civilisations, how they never seem to progress past late middle ages even in thousands of years of history. Perhaps they know something… the sea doesn’t like it if you get too uppity.
Tom: Some dreadful water-entity playing at being god, when it’s actually just a territorial beast who doesn’t like all the noise the interlopers are making.
Matt: …or perhaps it’s just super-possessive, if it sees a shiny it wants it. Naturally, being as large as it is, the shinies it mostly wants are civilisation-size.
Tom: Six of one, half dozen of the other?
Matt: Basically the sea is stormy and changeable of temperament, which is fitting.
Tom: Would the Raging Sea be an active antagonist, something that can be confronted or placated?
Matt: Possibly halfway between antagonist and elemental force you just kinda try to avoid.
[Now we have the basic concept, we start advancing it a little bit, and working out what could probably go wrong with it. Given the Atlantean history of hubris and not playing with others, a solution soon presented itself. ]
Matt: After a few centuries I picture you’d have a hybrid culture of surfacer and atlantean once the tensions are cleared up, all the surface architecture being a bit archaic and grand.
Tom: Perhaps there could be artificial lagoons built as fishing traps created by clearing some areas of debris, that which hasn’t been swept away by the aforementioned Raging Sea. Protective walls have probably been put up to divert the worst of the whole ‘elemental problem’
Matt: Possibly there could be some sort of Melnibonean thing arising after a while, where they make a pact with the sea, then start using all that neat atlantean technology to start raiding other nearby cultures and throwing a tithe of their booty into the depths to appease the Raging Sea.
Tom: There we go! That’s what we were missing!
Matt: We might have to involve time travel, so players can see what their good intentions hath wrought…
Tom: Half-Atlantean elemental cultist pirate raiders!
[So now we work on implementation – how could we shoehorn this in, where could we put it?]
Tom: This could be a particularly strange region that phases in and out of sync with the timeline. It’s bordering on unstable, so the dragons have their eye on it. This could allow for the timeskips…and an excuse for the Raging Sea to be a non-euclidean Lovecraftian Horror
Matthew: Bitchin, so we have refugees from a magical kingdom crossing paths with the remnants of an ancient megaculture, clashing, eventually merging and becoming a new, greater scourge on the world than any that has come before, able to advance their civilisation without interference from the Raging Sea.
Tom: Apart from next week’s rampaging evil culture…
Matt: Nothing beats haughty cultist pirates.
Tom: Even more so when they seem to appear out of nowhere, come to think of it. How about this? The reverence given to the Raging Sea by tithes and sacrifices allowed it to pull itself into sync with the timeline, when the cultist pirates are enough of a force to defend themselves and become a power in their own right. Perhaps if they’re defeated, the hold on being in phase with the timeline weakens and their home phases back out again – until next they return…
From here, we have three possible periods for PC interaction that could be used, if we choose to go with the timeskip device:
1.The formation, with feuding neighbours.
As we mentioned, there’s a lot of opportunity to be instrumental in building a bridge between the two factions, and exploring the unknown ruins to discover what relics can be recovered, Exploration and diplomacy are orders of the day.
2. The Golden Age.
High adventure on hostile seas! The two societies are one, and may welcome the return of the legendary heroes who return from beyond the mists of time to once again come to their aid in the face of great danger, and perhaps get to the bottom of what The Raging Sea is…
3. Evil cultist pirates.
The heroes return to find the civilisation not as they remember, having become cruel and decadent in their years of isolation, and now in league with the Raging Sea, feeding its endless greed and possibly on their way to becoming a threat to all of Crux. It’s up to the original heroes of the city to put right what has inexplicably gone wrong.
Depending on the time of year and strange planar convergences that are never entirely predictable, you could encounter a ruined people in dire straights, an enlightened and open civilisation amid a new rennaissance or a marauding pack of decadent sea-cultists.