…They have layers,” to amend Shrek. I believe a good game world is one that goes deeper the more the players dig. Having said that, I don’t believe that one can build a layered world from the ground up, one has to game in a world to get layers.
Rilmorn started as a wilderness map leading from the “country of Greyhawk” to the “Underground City of Lungold” and an unfinished dungeon map (which already had several ideas swiped from B1 – In Search of the Unknown. I had certain ideas about what was what in my game. “Murder Wood” had giant spiders; yes, I had read The Hobbit. The Baldorions had leucrotta in them; thanks to an illustration in the Monster Manual. Lungold was a city, so I was going to put in bathrooms, public baths, and a sewage system (a series of small tunnels with one foot cube-sized gelatinous cubes to clean up the waste). I had no idea of scale, when I started my overland map. I just knew I wanted it to take the PCs days to get to the dungeon. I knew that there were inns in Olde England and Middle Earth, so I put in roads and inns with colorful animal names. I saw such a name in the Dungeon Masters Guide, the “Green Griffin.” I wanted the PCs to go by my road to Lungold, so the river was deep and dangerous to cross and a section of the map was labeled “quicksand.” Even with all of that, it took several games to start layering in the details.
The first session in, my players asked why their characters couldn’t ride straight north to the dungeon. At that moment, the valleys and hills through that area became so steep, they would extremely slow travel and the Old River Road was the quickest way to Lungold. The second night on the road brought the characters to the Green Dragon Inn. I decided on a whim that the innkeeper at the Green Dragon was a skinflint and overcharged his guests. After that, the PCs chose to camp away from the Green Dragon, rather than pay the steep prices. Some games later, the PCs met some dwarves heading to the Baldorions, as the PCs headed south from Lungold. The dwarves complained to them about the awful service they got at the Green Dragon Inn.
Some games later, my players wanted to know why the inns had such “colorful” names and I said that each inn was built on a site where either a creature of that type was killed or a group of those animals had lived. For a long time after that announcement, the PCs would see a hawk hunting and the hawk would be black. The only type of dragon they knew existed, for many months of play, was the green, chlorine-breathing type; all related to the one who gave its life for the name of an inn. (If I were still running this map and set up, I’d have the innkeeper be cursed to be as greedy as a dragon, because of the dying curse of the eponymous green dragon. A new layer of which I just thought.) Horse traders would offer them special deals on “yellow horses,” when the PCs needed new mounts.
Even later, the PCs would discover a dwarven mine in the Baldorians. The leaders of the mines were the complaining dwarves from the Green Dragon. Each of these things made the game world richer for the players.
When I ran the dungeon for a new group of players, I had changed the name to Mythgold, because I didn’t want to get sued for plagiarism, if I ever published my game. When asked why the abandoned city was in such good shape, I came up with the idea of a self repairing dungeon. The magic of the wizards restored every non-living thing to its proper place. (My previous PCs had never stayed overnight in the dungeon, so the magic that restored things did not effect items removed from, then returned to Mythgold.) This group of player characters was particularly vandalistic, so I had great fun describing the magically restored furniture and repaired food crates, as they were leaving the dungeon. Later adventuring parties found many walls with perfectly mortared holes in them. Holes, once graced with gems, thanks to that party of characters.
Every time I have run Mythgold, I’ve used things that I or my players created or did to make Mythgold richer. The layers are deep and I can quickly answer most any question a player asks about the Underground City. I have an overly detailed history of Mythgold. My Dungeon Key is way too detailed for my own good. Every game adds a new coat of paint to a world. I try to use those layers to give Rilmorn a verisimilitude not found most games. Not every campaign needs depth, but it helps to hold the suspension of disbelief, if one, at least. uses the layers created in previous games. Until next time, Game On!