Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for the Westerlands

The Westerlands is the name of the world I have created for my current D&D game. I know, it's one of the least original names for a fantasy realm anyone could come up with. In fact, I feel like the name ranks right up there in terms of originality with the likes of Westeros, Middle Earth, Third Earth, Discworld, Oerth, or France.

When creating the Westerlands, originality was honestly the last thing on my mind. I created the world as part of my very first attempt at running a game of D&D. (Full disclosure: I had dabbled with D&D in high school, when I was thrust into the position of DM by my group of friends who were unwilling to take on the task themselves... but that group only lasted for about two sessions.) In addition to this being my first experience actually running a game, it was also the first experience playing D&D for many of my players.

As such, I was not out to create anything particularly novel, and so I decided to go for a classic high fantasy feel with a couple of twists.

  1. The plot elements, characters and locations are unashamedly inspired (i.e. appropriated, borrowed, stolen and modified) by fantasy literature, pop-culture and any other source that pops into my head. I do not strive to be original, just interesting and exciting for my players.
  2. The world is peppered with relics and ruins of a long-lost advanced civilization.
  3. Unique clockwork technology is relatively commonplace within the world thanks to a well- established gnomish population characterized by their love for tinkering/engineering.
I also sought to build my world from the inside out. What does this mean? Well, "in the beginning" -as such things tend to begin- I had a vague idea for a long-term plot arc, a more detailed idea for a small farming town, a tavern within the town, and a mysterious stranger in the tavern to give my players their first quest. One of the beauties of running things for new players is that horrible cliches are not yet cliche. Beyond this small cluster of details, the rest of the world was naught but unformed creative goo awaiting the hand of inspiration.

The first adventure took place back in February of 2009 and we've been playing ever since. We typically get together two days a month for about four hours each day. As we have played, the characters have moved from place to place as I fill in the details of the world one step ahead of them. The nice thing about building a world from the inside out is that you can start playing right away. The downside is that you have the added burden of fleshing out the next stop on the trail while you're simultaneously trying to iron out the nuts and bolts of the next session.

Anyway, to keep track of the group's adventures and all of the world-fleshing that was going on, I set up a wiki over at Obsidian Portal. Among other things, the wiki currently includes written summaries for 34 of the 63 game sessions we have had -mostly written as short narratives. It also acts like an encyclopedia of the world, detailing locations, notable people and organizations. It is both a valuable archive to help jog my memory and keep things consistent, and a narcissistic "hey look what I made!" on the global fridge door that is the internet.

I am very proud that the game is still plugging away after two years. While I'm sure it is a flash in the pan for many Grognards (truly old-school D&D players) we've been running longer than any other game I've been involved with.

Looking back, I realize I made some newbie mistakes, and I would likely do some things differently if I were starting fresh. Most notably, I would establish a central location to act as an adventure hub rather than the more nomadic adventure style that I find very appealing in novels. When it comes to gaming, it just means I have to keep fleshing out new towns everytime the group sets off on another adventure.

Still, the Westerlands has been my main creative outlet for the past two years and I am proud of what my game group has built.


Side note: I am leaving on a business trip until the end of the week. I plan to bring my lappy with me, but I'm not sure what kind of time I will have to write up posts X & Y... I'll give it my best though.


  1. that is a great map! Sounds like a fun game too!
    Great meeting you through the A-Z!


  2. Awesome map. You and your gaming group are definitely a creative bunch. It's a pleasure to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  3. Can I use your blank westerlands map for a RPG I'm making? It's beautiful by the way. :D


Follow by Email