Monday, February 22, 2010

World Building, Baronies

Time to take that kingdom map you've moved the boundaries on and start dividing it up with more lines. I'll be using the word, barony because it's the most common term I use, but duchy, county, territory, shire will all do. This scale is what I prefer. It suits me best and I think it is a wonderful scale for a sandbox setting. This scale is small enough to get into a detail, but large enough to provide a variety of opportunities. My baronies tend to be as small as 30 miles (a little less than three hexes on the large map) up to hundreds of miles. I have no idea if this is historically accurate. Don't really care. I just want it to fit what I am doing and be interesting.

With a barony level map I get more detailed with the features in the area, both natural and not so natural. The one map I have hanging in front of me on my wall is the Barony of Absalom. This is where I can give the land personality and before I even write a word it gives me details on how this place is run and why. For example there are hill to the east and there are several mines all of them tin or iron, there are several forester camps around the forests. To the west there are plains but the land is poor and difficult. So just from the layout I got the idea this baron is militaristic. Not rich, but is able to support a large group of soldiers. I let the land suggest the story of the region.

Then I take that suggestion and start developing a history. Usually I go back one or two generations. I look at the immediate history as to how the Barony of Absalom came into its current state of existence. What I discovered by just doing a stream of consciousness history was the grandfather and father of the current baron were brutal men who forged their barony from the inhospitable land, but the current baron is weak and timid. His wife, the daughter of neighboring baron, is the strength. Her father had her marry to have a son so that the baronies would join. But they have yet to have a son so she has taken on other lovers to speed the process.

In the northern area is a tower dedicated to the blood god, Azeel. It is an illegal religion throughout the civilized world, but baron has granted them station here as long as they assist him. This baron is obsessed with the future. He is afraid to make a wrong move without consulting the blood priest. To look into the future he must sacrifice to the god Azeel. So if you are one of the baron's slaves your length of stay is determined by his level of paranoia. So now this dark secret permeates this land and the people suffer for it.

With a rough sketch of the baron and his family I start working on the next level which is his knights. The way the baronies are set up in my campaign are there are several villages all within a half day or day's walk of a tower or keep. These are usually run by a knight and his soldiers. Is this historical accurate? Again, not so much, but it works for me. So now I detail each knight in the barony and how he settles disputes and so on.

The next part is determining how many villages you want to detail. In the Barony of Absalom there are 78 villages. I'm not going to draw an individual map and detail every villager for each village. My head would explode. So I select a village I want to detail and draw it up and detail its inhabitants. I use the reeve as the leader of the village with maybe a hayward and woodward with a few yeomen mixed in. Detail the primary people in the village and maybe a little bit about what it going on. So if the players go tromping through the village there will be a storyline or plot hook established.

The last part I do is detail places of interest and monster lairs. This is easy to do and a lot of fun. It's like doing a 2000 piece puzzle and you're down to the last couple dozen pieces. I'll put a notation if there is a dungeon there. In which case I'll assign one of my many maps I draw when I watch a movie. If I have time to prep the week before a session I will flesh out the dungeon. I'm pretty decent at ad lib adventures so I don't worry about it too much. But I like to detail the strangeness of the land in this area. The massive ruins of a fortress build into the side of a mountian that no one can reach, ruin villages or towers whose history is unknown to the inhabitants. To provide a sense of mystery and history I guess. Most the time I don't know what's going on with them until the players take an interest.

I think the most important thing is to have a very flexible approach to building these baronies. Sometimes when I am writing something I am thinking "This is very cool." But when the players begin interacting with what I wrote I see it's not working out like a thought. So I change it. Don't make any of your ideas or writing sacred and untouchable. Situations are fluid and if the players are doing something that might connect a ruin to the adventure better than the elaborate history you have developed, scrap it for now and slap it on another ruin later.

Next will be villages. I'll go into more detail about these little dots that are scattered across all our maps.


  1. Good stuff!

    Keep on posting!

    These blogs are a great source of ideas for any sandbox!

    I always try and use a much smaller map. (See my blog) It allows me to focus on the setting. I hope my players don't wander off my map thought.

  2. Glad they are helpful. I know they are nothing ground breaking, but I hope to mention something that might spark someone's imaginiation. I know I get a lot a great ideas from other blogs.

  3. Looking forward to follow up posts. This is great stuff, as usual. Yours is one of the blogs that I find really helpful in building my own sandboxes.

    Man, has blogging changed the whole game for DMing.

  4. Very good post. I agree that a "Barony" is the ideal setting for a sandbox campaign. Its large enough to be interesting and varied but still of manageable size.