Saturday, May 4, 2013

Campaign Setting: The Village of Hovick

I've been fleshing out some of the world for my current DCC RPG campaign using the methods outlined here. This has been happening concurrent with our weekly play sessions, and since the PC's would be heading back to civilization after the first adventure wrapped up, I had been wanting to get a handle on Hovick, the PCs' "village of origin." I had some notes about the heroes' welcome they would receive upon their return, and the family and friends with whom they will be reunited, but I really wanted a clear idea of the village itself. I enjoy winging things, but I am also a stickler for immersion and verisimilitude, and I didn't want Hovick to feel like a generic D&D village (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I'm a cartoonist and illustrator by profession, but I hadn't drawn a map of a pseudo-medieval village since my days in high school, so I was a little rusty. But after thinking about it a lot and sketching a little, the old instincts came back. I realize now, in retrospect, that big two things affected my imagining of Hovick: the settlement maps from the Hârn rpg, over which I pored endlessly back in my high school days; and a class on city development that I took during my junior year at art school. Hârnmaster, as the rpg system was called, was nearly unprecedented at the time in its detail and realism, and the maps, such as this one, reflected those qualities. The class on city development was great because it gave me a basic understanding of how human settlements were founded, and how specifics like geography and access to resources influenced their development over time.

From the regional-level worldbuilding I had done, I knew that Hovick was a fishing village on the eastern shore of Blacksalt Lake, that it was near Wildthorn Wood (where my group's first adventure, Harley Stroh's Halls of the Minotaur, was set), and that it was roughly 60 miles from the provincial seat of Assalom's Rest, to the east.

Starting with this basic info, my next step was to use Chaotic Shiny's city generator to create some flavor hooks. By "hooks" in this case, I mean generator output that strikes me as interesting or applicable for one reason or another. When using generators like this, I keep the subject ("a fishing village") in mind while glancing through the results, writing down anything that my brain catches on — anything that I respond to at an intuitive level — and discarding the rest. In this case, I've since misplaced my original notes, but one thing I remember from the output was the line "Buildings: resemble insects."

How can the buildings of a pseudo-medieval human village resemble insects? I don't know why I latched onto that one, but I did, and the first thing I thought of was that the huts of the fisherfolk could be clustered along the shore of the lake like grubs or larvae. Modest, rounded daub-and-wattle huts. Not very insect-like in the end, but a nice visual that helped me start to see the village.

Next, I thought a little bit about why the village exists. It's a fishing village, so fishing is the primary form of industry. Is it just subsistence fishing, or do Hovick's fisherfolk play some part in the larger economy? I feel like it would be good to have some connection to Assalom's Rest for story purposes, so let's have a trade relationship between Hovick and The Rest (as I now decide the locals call it). But Assalom's Rest is a port town, in all likelihood with its own fishing industry, so why would they want more fish? I decide that it's not the fish per se, but the particular flavor of the salt in Blacksalt lake that sets the fish of Hovick apart. In fact, at some point an enterprising trader from The Rest came to Hovick and established a facility for salting and smoking fish to sell at market; and, more lucratively, to process and package "blacksalt" itself as a luxury spice.

So that's the anchor: Hovick started as a subsistence fishing village, but now it exports smoked fish and blacksalt, via a weekly trade mission to the Market Quarter in Assalom's Rest. You can smell the smoked fish from within a mile of the place. And this sensory detail calls back another line from the city generator's output: "Famous for: an abundance of cats." Indeed. Another great setting detail to give the village some character.

So with a pretty basic idea, it's time to start sketching. Unless a more important geographic feature is demanding attention, I almost always start with the bodies of water, so the shoreline goes in first. Next, I think about fresh water sources. The lake is salt water, so there has to be a different source of fresh water, or no settlement would exist here. Looking at my regional map, I see there are no major rivers in the vicinity, so the water source is going to be smaller, let's say a big stream coming out of the Thornwood to the southeast. That gets sketched in next.

Most settlements grow up right on the fresh water source that they depend upon, so working with that idea I choose an area on the stream but close to the shore, where the fishing needs to happen. Draw in where the grub-like fishing huts will be arrayed, at a point where the shore comes in a little, and then rough in where the town center will be, closer to the fresh water. Then I draw a road from the town center off the map to the northeast, toward the biggest regional settlement, Assalom's Rest, and dub this thoroughfare Asslaom's Road; then a secondary road to the fishing center ("Fisher Beach"), and from the fishing center to Assalom's Road. Those would be the main routes, the ones most heavily traveled: provincial capitol to village center, village center to industrial center, industrial center to provincial capitol. Other roads will build off of that main triangle.

Is Hovick fortified? My mental image is of a pretty small place, and there are no military threats in the area, but I remember that in the introduction to the first adventure, I told the players that the minotaur had smashed in the village gates. So I guess it is fortified. We'll say against potential monster attacks, since Hovick lies on the outer edge of Bramic civilization. Everybody loves a palisade. Sketch that in. It's too big, tries to encompass too much. A palisade that big is beyond the means of a small village to maintain. So I scale it back, leave some stuff outside the walls. Put a gate where the main road comes in, obviously, but that means adjusting my underlying road triangle so the road from Fisher Beach passes through the gate instead of going straight to the village center; but that's great, that's the kind of shift that starts to make a place feel organic. Another gate leading to the saltery and smokehouse, which have been left outside the walls. And a third gate to the south, to allow more direct access for woodsmen and trappers heading into Wildthorn Wood. What happens to people who live outside the walls if there's an attack? They run inside. Make sure there are direct paths to the gates from any populated area.

Because a couple of the PCs started the game with holy symbols and some degree of religious belief, I had already come up with Arimar, God of Peace and Truth, and had decided that he was the primary deity of Hovick. A temple is obviously a big focus, so I put it right at the head of the main road, where it ends in the market square. Arimar's symbol is an oak leaf, so I guess his adherents like oak trees. Let's put a nice semicircle of oaks around the back of the church. Hovick is too small to support any other temples of size, but I place a shrine to Assalom (God of Travel, Trade, and Good Fortune) at the main gate, and decide that all Bramic cities have shrines to Assalom at their most well-traveled gates. The only other deity actively represented in Hovick is Jeneva, Goddess of Strife, Sorrow, and the Sea, but she is worshiped in private by the fisherfolk.

I also put the town hall on the market square, and some other buildings I'll sort out later. In fact, I pepper the streets with buildings of varying shapes and sizes, planning to assign some of them functions later on.

When horses are a the main form of transport after foot travel, there need to be sufficient facilities for the horses, and they need to be conveniently located for people coming and going. So I put an ostler right inside the main gate (now called Assalom's Gate, in a stunningly creative move) and another one outside, on Assalom's Road. Boarding horses there will obviously be a little cheaper, since it's not protected by the palisade.

At some point I decide that a mill was built on the stream, and the building of the mill led to upper and lower millponds, so I add those in. The lower pond is where the villagers do their laundry (on flat stone slabs brought in for that prupose), and the upper pond is tapped for the main well, located in the adjoining square.

By now I have a refined sketch of the village and immediate surroundings:

At this point I switch over to my notes and start to write down some stuff about the village's history, riffing on ideas that have bubbled up over the course of sketching the map. After I do that for a while, and I feel like tackling the map again, I scan it it into Adobe Illustrator and start to play around with drawing stuff. I own Campaign Cartographer 3, but the learning curve is too steep for me, and I have gotten too frustrated too many times to want to try to use these days, when my time is at a premium. I'm somewhat familiar with Illustrator, though (mostly by using it professionally, and in the creation of a pulp adventure board game), and although I'd never used it to do much drawing, I wanted to see if it would work.

After a little experimenting, I had he water and roads drawn in, and had created a tree "brush" that I could use to start laying in the forested areas.

Some more experimenting with the pencil tool, and outlines and fill, and I had a pretty good system down. Here's what the final product looks like:

I am continually finding things that need fixing (for instance, the residents of Fisher Beach probably need a more accessible source of fresh water), but overall I'm happy with the current state of things. The PCs have a clearly defined home base, at least until they pull up stakes and move on from their humble origins, and I now have a firm grasp on why the place exists, who lives there, and the basic socio-economic situation.

If you're curious about any of the details, you can read the Google doc I've created to develop Hovick in detail. It's still very much a work in progress, but feel free to use the village in your own game, if you're so inclined.


  1. This is some amazing work, and I thank you for doing all the heavy lifting on creating a workflow that I am totally going to steal to develop the campaign I'm working on.

  2. I am curious as to how your Illustrator file is structured. Are you using different layers for different aspects of the map? Also, since I don't have access to Illustrator, are you using any "special features" that a free program like Inkscape might not have?

  3. Hi Peter --

    I'm totally self-taught when it comes to Illustrator, and I don't know the proper terminology, but I don't think I'm using layers in the technical sense. Each element in Illustrator exists on its own level when you create it, and all I'm doing is moving elements forward and back via hotkeys until they're in the right place. You can group elements together so they move as a unit, so for instance all the roads can be grouped together and moved forward and back as needed. I don't think that's making use of the "Layers" part of Illustrator, but I've never messed around with them, so I'm not sure.

    Since my understanding of Illustrator isn't particularly sophisticated, and I just try to get things done as quickly directly as possible, I doubt I'm using any special features unique to Illustrator. I haven't used Inkscape, but what I did seems pretty basic to me.