Tobold's Blog
Sunday, February 02, 2014
Photoshopping the world

I hadn't planned it that way. But the day after writing my previous post with the title "Changing the world", I did some campaign preparation which ended up including a very literal world-changing event: I photoshopped a map of the Forgotten Realms. As that is another nice example of adapting the world to your campaign, let me tell you more about it.

As a rules system, 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons can work with many different campaign worlds, from the self-made to commercial products like Forgotten Realms or Eberron. But 4E also comes with a "sample community" described in the Dungeon Master's Guide and used in several printed 4e adventure modules: The Nentir Vale, with the city of Fallcrest in the middle. All of my campaign played in the Nentir Vale up to now. But as a campaign world, the Nentir Vale has its limits: It must be one of the smallest campaign worlds ever created. You can get from one end to another in a week's travel. So at one point in the future my players will leave the Nentir Vale, and then I need a bigger world around it.

Now I have used the Forgotten Realms in previous campaigns, and due to computer games and other WotC licensed products my players are somewhat familiar with that campaign world. So I had decided earlier in the campaign that the world around the Nentir Vale would be the Forgotten Realms. Following advice from some WotC forums, I placed the Nentir Vale into the north-eastern part of Amn. The Nentir Vale is shown as having a forest to its north, and moutains to its north-west. So I imagined it fitting on the map of Amn where the Snakewood meets the Cloud Peaks.

But as I was preparing the first adventure outside of Nentir Vale, I needed to create a local area map. And to make that map fit, I had to make a campaign map. So I took the official WotC map of the Forgotten Realms, cropped it to the part between The Moonsea and Calimshan, and then started modifying it. I'm not a great artist, and only use simple tools, in this case MS Paint. But that works well enough to modify a small bit of a world map.

Fortunately the Forgotten Realms are huge. And even after decades of releasing books and material for this campaign world there are big stretches of the world which even Ed Greenwood barely remembers having put in. And to some degree the less described bits are there by design: Many DMs need space to put their own creations on the map for their individual campaign version of the Forgotten Realms. It gives the DMs the best of both worlds: Not having to create a huge campaign world by themselves, but still having room for smaller bits of creativity.

So the message is still the one from the previous post: Don't be afraid to use printed material, but don't be afraid to change it around either. You and your friends are creating your campaign world in your heads through collaborative story-telling. It is inevitable that your version of a known fantasy world will differ from the versions at other game tables. Embrace that. Make that world fit your campaign, and not the other way around.

Not exactly on topic, but is a good, free choice for image editing. A much better tool that MS Paint.
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