Any time a writer builds a world, their obsessions show. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings had linguistics and industrialization. Roddenbery’s Star Trek had utopian idealism. My own Farrakan has psychology and environmental impact. In this post, I begin investigating the process of worldbuilding by building one town where all themes of a good Farrakanian story come center stage.
Whatever the writer builds the world to explore ends up being what is most fully fleshed out and whatever is not relevant to the narrative the writer wants to tell tends to be forgotten. One of the truly majestic things about Tolkein’s Middle Earth is how in depth his understanding of the entirety of Middle Earth is. Even the greatest recent epics- Simmons’s Hyperion, Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series- have limitations of scope based on what is relevant to their narrative. Hyperion shows us much more of the worlds politics, science, and literature than it does of the education system. Thomas Covenant, especially early on, focuses on the lifestyle and idyllism of the mystic otherworld called The Land.
In running a roleplaying game set in my world of Farrakan, I’m constantly forced to explore things that may be of interest to me, but weren’t required for the purposes of the novel The Horde or any of the short stories so far. In building Farrakan for more stories and for my players, I’ve opted to go with a method outlined in Ron Edward’s Sword and Sorcery supplement for the Sorcerer roleplaying game, where he suggests emulating the construction of Vance’s Dying Earth and Howard’s Hyboria by building the world one city, one story at a time as it integrates thematically. The first true place I take my players to is the town of Garvey, far distant from the outskirts of the Dameon Empire where the Horde begins.
In constructing Garvey as a place for players to experience and for me to set more detailed stories, I needed to stop being psychological and start, as MTV’s The Real World would have it, getting real. First, I needed inspiration. The adventure I’m using as a template was originally set in 1930’s Cleveland, Ohio and so as I’ve built the town over the past week, pieces of that filtered through the eyes of Kenneth Hite, author of Trail of Cthulhu and the adventure I’m using as source material, helped shape this town, adding a number of details that I had never considered when Oren first spoke about his homeland in The Horde.
I began with geography and names. The town is largely composed of names reflecting a Semitic origin as discussed in a previous post. However devastation keeps repeating itself across the world of Farrakan a large influx of refugees create conflict here. The largest refugee group has been using Scottish names as influence to help highlight that they originate far afield.
Garvey was originally designed as a collection of villages, the largest and most powerful of which give the name to the region and predominantly rule the other townships in a rather unorganized fashion. When I actually began mapping the area, however, I did not begin with Garvey Proper.
One of the oldest landmarks in the area is the ever-present Road, an ancient unknown construct resembling asphalt that wraps around Farrakan like a belt. The Road and its origin is a major plot point in The Horde but largely irrelevant to the day to day lives of the people of Farrakan. It has been around so long and has done so little that many people simply accept it as being part of the world, like the sea.
I placed the Road on the map running North to South off both ends of the map, with one end vanishing into the waves of the ocean, the shoreline of which runs northeast to southwest. Somewhat to the west is a river that, while natural and thus neither uneven or straight, runs roughly parallel to the Road from the ocean. On the shoreline between these two, is the 800 foot tall tower of a long dead wizard, known as Terminus by the locals. I’m not set on the name for the purpose of storytelling, but it works for the purposes of creating a setting.
This geography and prominent landmark drives the development and history of the area almost automatically. Once I had those pieces laid out, I simply had to let the words flow and the region basically built itself. I haven’t yet touched on how the central mythology of the world of Farrakan came into play.
In my next post I will discuss how I transformed a river and a road into a fully operational township ripe for heroes to come and explore and how this ultimately yielded a windfall of new inspirations for stories to tell about my dying planet.