|Image Courtesy of The Acaeum.com|
All of those, and more, had a big impact on the "flavor" of my campaign world, but one thing in particular had very specific impact on the way that I organized my world, the type of information I chose to develop and portray, and the aesthetics of how the information was presented: the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set from TSR. Yes, I know that the earlier 1980 "folio" version of the setting is the darling of the OSR community, but I never had that version, and I've still never seen it. The boxed set is the one I grew up with, and the one that I used as a model for my campaign world's earliest iterations. The reason I call my campaign the World of Samoth, and not just Samoth, is because of the World of Greyhawk.
I won't get too much into the actual contents of the World of Greyhawk boxed set - there are other sites that do that, and sooner or later I suspect that it will be available as a PDF from WotC now that they're beginning to sell PDFs of all of their old out-of-print products again.
What I will say is that Gary Gygax had very specific ideas on what constituted "world-building," for including way more detail that was needed, and also for hanging on to his war gaming roots by including information that would be helpful if one were running a miniatures war game but which would likely not be necessary at all for one playing a role-playing game.
|A scanned page from my World of Samoth campaign |
notebook, with calligraphy and hand-written notes.
The name "Sudor" was eventually changed to
"Samoth." Circa 1986.
Anyway, I dutifully took notes and included this information in my own campaign world, even copying the presentation style, and verbiage, of Gygax. I've included scans of some of these old notes, written in graph paper in a combination of calligraphy and regular ballpoint pen.
The thing is... it's never come up in my game. Ever. I've been running this campaign for about 12 years now, and never once have the various other planets come into play, nor the question of which of Samoth's two moons is waxing or waning, etc. At one point, I attempted to force-graft a very elaborate astrology system into my game, and allow spellcasters to take feats (this was in 3.5 days) that would allow their magic to increase in power when certain astrological things were happening, but also negatively affecting them at other times. I ultimately discarded this because I realized that it was way too much record keeping, and ultimately, I could tell that my players just wouldn't care. That's not a bad thing - I'm not "blaming them." It's just really too much detail than what is needed for the game.
(As a side note, just for fun, I named all of the other planets after the names of girls in my high school classes that I liked at the time, but just rearranged the letters. Ah, youth...)
|Calligraphy and hand-written notes on the Calendar |
for the World of Samoth. Circa 1986.
Speaking of weather, this is an area of "adding more detail than is needed." Gary had ported over a "Weather Generation System" that someone had submitted to Dragon magazine and dropped it into the World of Greyhawk boxed set. Once I saw this in the guide, I started to panic slightly. My young 16-year old self thought, "Holy crap... he's talking about weather and average monthly temperatures and amount of rainfall... this stuff has to be real. If I try to fake this, someone's going to call me out and everybody is going to hate my world and think I don't know what I'm doing." At this point, since I wasn't actively playing D&D at the time, world-building for me was really done with an eye toward eventual publication, so I wanted everything to be "just right." I started digging through my parents' set of old World Book Encyclopedias from 1962 and trying to figure out the average temperature and weather patterns of various areas of the world, and then applying that to my campaign setting. The result was a weather table that looked almost identical to the one from the World of Greyhawk.
More importantly, it's never seen use in any of my games. Ever.
Regarding the point on Gary's war gaming roots, when he wrote up the short synopses on each country in the World, there were two main things that he covered: the name, class, and level of the ruler (so you could stat them out, in case you wanted to fight them, I guess), and also a very detailed analysis of the country's military forces (the number of "heavy foot" and the weapons they carried, etc.). Again, I figured "this is how you build a fantasy campaign world" and I went on to detail the numbers, armor, weapons, and type of the military forces of each country in my world, and went so far as to "mix things up" by giving certain countries soldiers that specialized in wielding the glaive-guisarme, for example, or the voulge, rather than just a plain old halberd or spear or whatever. This kind of stuff was important to me. Gary included it, so it's got to be in there.
Guess how often it's come up in my games?
There is just so much stuff in these two little booklets in the World of Greyhawk setting, and every detail of it was absorbed by me and then included in my campaign world. I have notes on the types of clothing worn by the various different human races, the types of instruments most common among the dwarves of different parts of my world, elaborate descriptions of the "death rituals" of four main races in just one specific country, the migration patterns of different races of humans across the main continents... all of this stuff just seemed to be necessary and integral to the building of a cohesive fantasy world. No detail could be skipped over, or the world wouldn't feel "real."
And, you know what? Despite 99% of this stuff never actually seeing use in game play, I do think it has affected how much I know about my campaign world. That might seem like an odd statement, since I just made the world up, so obviously I know everything about it. What I mean, though, is that because I spent so much time developing these details over the past 25+ years, they creep in at times what I probably don't expect it, and maybe don't even realize it, and I hope make the world a richer place to adventure in for my players.
And, for that, I will always be grateful that I snagged a used copy of the World of Greyhawk boxed setting from one of my buddies when I was a kid.