Sunday, November 3, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 4 - The Home Base

The Town of Willow Dale
This is the forth of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

With the first three levels of the dungeon outlined, it's time to turn my attention to the starting town for this campaign. This will probably be the locale the characters will come to rest and recuperate between dungeon delves; a place to hang their cloak and spend some of that coin they fought so hard to gain.

There's No Place Like Home Base

Gary starts us off with a note on when to do this step and what players will most likely do in town.
"Step 4 should be handled concurrently with designing the first three or four dungeon levels. Here your players will find lodgings, buy equipment, hire mercenaries, seek magical and clerical aid, drink, gamble and wench."
He goes on to say that there are many towns in fantasy literature that can be used as examples to build upon:
"The town would do well to resemble some of those in Howard's "Conan" series or Leiber's city of “Lankhmar”."
The above statement is telling of what source material Gary considered core to the flavor of D&D.

Finally he goes into a laundry list of things the town could include or events that could transpire there, but, in my opinion, his best bit of advice is the final sentence in this section:
"In any event be sure and leave room for additional things and expansion."
For those to familiar with Dungeon World, this should sound familiar: "Draw Maps, leave blanks". This is the number one principle for GMs in DW. For me, it is also one of the toughest ones to adhere to.

As a self-proclaimed creative individual, I like to let my imagination run unfettered and fill in as many of the blanks as possible. Partly because I strive for a certain richness in the tapestry of the world. I'm more than a little enamored with world building thanks to reading such excellent treatises on the subject as The Lord of the Rings and the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Play experience, especially playing Dungeon World, has shown me that there is great value in filling in elements at the table. First and foremost, the practice fosters a sense of collaboration and shared ownership over the setting. This buy-in helps invest players in their character and the world in which they adventure. A close second is that this practice helps to reduce GM prep time.

With Ray Otus' handy workbook to help guide me through this step, I set to work laying out the town of Willow Dale. Let's see what I came up with.

The Town of Willow Dale

"As grey traces of dawn tinge the eastern sky, the three travelers, men of Willow Dale, emerge from the forest shadow. Fording the River Dawn, they turn south, journeying into the dark and forbidding lands of the Necromancer."
The above lyrics, from the Rush song The Necromancer on their album Caress of Steel, formed the starting point for the town of Willow Dale. They were also helpful back in Step 1 when I was sketching in the landscape of the lands around the Necromancer's ruined tower.

I started with a randomly generated city (map at the top of this post). Willow Dale is a medium sized town. The generator gave me some evocative names of the various districts which made it easy to start placing businesses and locales the characters might frequent. Beginning with the equipment lists I began assigning names to the different proprietors of all the goods adventurers need.

Next I outlined three factions that are active in the town: the Trades Guild, the governor and his council, and a clandestine group working toward a secret agenda. From these and the shops I was able to start with a rich list of NPCs with whom the characters engage and interact. The finishing touch was a list of rumors that will hopefully lead the characters to the adventures they seek.

A couple of the town details came out of my early daydreaming about Willow Dale back in Step 1. When thinking about about the name of the town, I wondered as to it's origin. Looking at some of it's uses, I decided on the following points:

  • Willows are prominent in the area around the town
  • The willows are used in the production of furniture and baskets
  • The leaves are used by apothecaries of a variety of medicines
  • Bees drawn to the willows are farmed for their honey
  • Mead is produced as a by product of the honey
  • Being situated on a river-fed lake, the town is a center of trade for the trappers and furriers of the north

Room to Grow

Looking back I have a lot of details about the town. I wondered if I went too far with the number of locales and NPCs. My goal was to cover the characters' needs, but without having a gaming group to plan for I end up trying to anticipate every eventuality.

This week's exercise was a lot of work due to the number of details that were needed. I am left wondering the value of this effort. The town certainly adds a lot of flavor and underscores the themes set out in Step 1. Likewise, it was fun to name people and places based on elements from the two inspirational albums. But what value is there in doing this?

I'm a little hesitant to put too much time into a home base after my last campaign. In that effort, I worked to bring to life the various NPCs of a well known frontier lands' Keep only to have the characters spend all their time in the dungeon.

Based on the outline in Ray's workbook, I can call this section done and move on to the final step: fleshing out the rest of the world.


Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 4

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 4

Illustration Credits

Willow Dale Map created using the Medieval Fantasy City Generator by watabou

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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