Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Joy of a Blank Map - What 5th Editions Default Setting Should Be

The announcement of 5th edition, or D&D Next, came with another announcement. That the Forgotten Realms would be the games default setting. The Realms is big, it has a rich history and a rich future. It has novels set in its cities and wilderness, it is the home to some of D&D's most well known heroes and villains.

And for anyone starting the game with this next edition, it will be the default world that their characters call home when they sit down to play. And, its a good world. Its big! It has a lot of preexisting resources that WotC can republish. Anything can happen in the Realms, and that's a great thing.

But, as a DM and a player, I have a small request. It is one that for WotC would have a negligible cost and would help countless DMs who are interested in world building and setting creation, those of us who want to play in our own sandboxes.

Give us professionally crafted maps of large landmasses, continents, archipelagos, sub-continents, etc. Put the forests, mountains, cities, and towns on there, fill it with interesting terrain and little dots to let us know where things are.

But don't label any of it.

The default setting of D&D should be a nearly blank map. A world mysterious to the players, full of danger and unknown terror.

A nearly blank map would give DMs creative control over their world. Don't know anything about the realms? Don't want to learn the complex political structure of Ebberon? Want to start with a blank slate and populate it with what monsters and civilizations you choose?

Here's your map. This city here, on this river, what's in it? Who lives there? Is it a city of human nobles at war with the elves in the nearby forest? Is it full of thieves and river bandits, allied with the gnolls? Or, perhaps its a city in ruins, waiting to be explored.

No presumptions on the part of WotC or the players. It is up to the DM to tell their players what they know about the world surrounding their tiny village. A world ripe for exploration.

For some of us, the Realms and other per-generated worlds don't give us the freedom we like. They have too much baggage, whether its in the form of novels or source books or even just adventures. The more the Nentir Vale got filled in with "stuff" the more I disliked it. The more crowded with other peoples ideas it felt.

A blank map though, of that area? A lovely thing.

Then you can publish cities that can be dropped into these maps, dungeons and ruins that all the DM has to to is pick a dot on his map and say "Here is where the lost ruins of Kalab'ahran, the Bright City of the Dwarves, lies."

Entire cultures can be created, free from the tyranny of published settings. Want to create an interesting clan of elves? Want to give Orcs their own kingdom where the Orc King worships Erathis? Here is a blank map where WotC and others have no assumptions or hold on you. Put them where you like.

I will admit that this desire comes from a simple problem: I am not a cartographer. I have no skill at drawing worlds. And when I do its basic colored marker and pen, on white paper. A professionally done map though? Would be an inspiration. For myself, I will admit, and others.

For those of you who enjoy published settings I do not suggest that WotC abandon these worlds. Athas, Abeir-Toril, Oerth, and even the world of the Nentir Vale all have their stories to tell us.

I would just like a blank world, or a series of them, where the only thing telling me what lies over the next hill is what I want to put there, not what someone else wanted.

Thank you. :)

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