Dark fantasy worldbuilding


DIY workshop…

I have had the ingredients of a new homebrew setting simmering away for a few years now, but never got the time or 100% urge to finish it enough to play. The contents are scattered among several notebooks and hidden away on my hard drive in OneNote.

It began as I was working on a new adventure module – Fiery the Angel Fell, where I had to do some background for the area around the adventure location. This got me thinking about the larger world and as one thing leads to another, soon the bare bones of a setting popped up in my head.


It is a fantasy setting, but of the grimmer and darker kind. Literary inspiration could be Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher books or Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books, maybe with a dash of Michael Moorcock here and there. And naturally interspersed with a (un)healthy dose of Lovecraftian horror. Game wise I’d say like a mix of Warhammer’s Old World, elements of Ravenloft, bits and bobs of Jack Shear’s World Between, and ideas from Mongoose’s excellent but strangely forgotten Deus Vult setting (for RuneQuest II/Legend).

The original plan was to write it for Blood & Treasure or Labyrinth Lord, but then I thought that Fantastic Heroes & Witchery would fit much better, with it’s darker themes. Then, as my interest in D&D-ish games waned and the goodness that is Zweihänder emerged, I decided to switch to that instead. Now, Zweihänder sounded super during the Kickstarter, being basically a clone of WFRP 2e but with the serial numbers filed off. However, I must admit that despite being a gorgeous book, with very cool concepts and art, the system left me a bit cold as it’s quite different from WFRP 2e (which I love). The book is also extremely wordy in comparison and I frankly have had a hard time grasping the rules when forced to read a ton of text with little snippets of useful info being hidden in the text.


Thickness comparison of WFRP 2e and Zweihänder*

* OK, not totally fair comparison since Zweihänder contains a lot of stuff that WFRP added in separate sourcebooks, but still…

I’m sure that we will try out Zweihänder further up the road, but for the time being, I will stay in the Old World using WFRP 2e when I get that Warhammer urge. I did also consider using OpenQuest 2, which is my go-to d100 fantasy system, but again it felt too RuneQuest-y in flavor, especially the magic systems, which I’m really not a huge fan of outside of Glorantha style settings.


Basic Roleplaying – The Big Gold Book

Then, a few days ago, as a result of a conversation over at Google Plus, I dug out my trusty Big Gold Basic Roleplaying book and started reading and it dawned on me that I had all the tools I could ever want for my homebrew setting right under my nose. Better yet, d100/BRP gaming has been my favorite system-wise ever since we played RuneQuest 2 in the 1980’s, so it all makes very good sense.


Generic d100/BRP game system Magic World!

As a result, I have managed to track down a copy of Magic World and it’s companion Advanced Sorcery, which I will use as a rule base. Magic World is basically Stormbringer/Elric with the serial numbers filed off. Simpler rules than RuneQuest and more appropriate to my ideas about this new game world.

This time my world will start small and grow over time. When I last made a homebrew setting back in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, I tried to create an almost complete world, with easily foreseeable results… (it became overwhelming and slowly petered out…)

Last, a short comment about the adventure that started it all. As I said earlier, Fiery the Angel Fell was planned as an adventure module for release on Lulu and DriveThru RPG. I haven’t dropped that idea yet, but if I release it, I will have to use an OGL compliant game system such as MRQ I or Mongoose Legend, or even Revolution D100 (by Alephtar Games), as they have SRDs that could allow such an enterprise.  Also, the module will be for free – my little contribution to the RPG community (see earlier post about this here).

However, it’s a great difference between creating stuff for your own games and creating stuff for publication. Publishing stuff is great fun and rewarding in many ways, but it’s also a huge time sink and free time is something I don’t have very much of at the moment.

So we’ll see about that.

But being back in the d100 fold again feels  great!




Brave New World

My first fantasy map, 1982-1983 circa

I drew the map above in my squared A4 school notebook with my school issue Faber-Castell o.5 pencils. It was back in 82-83 and we had played b/x for a while and I had just gotten hold of the Games Workshop Runequest box (RQ2 for the initiated). I loved the game, but the greatest fascination was the Prax map by William Church. I had never seen anything so cool map-wise, so I decided to expand the map with my home-brew setting, which eventually grew into the “World of Haleth” (yeah, I know – superdorky and pretentious name).

This world was expanded as needed and really was a mix of my own stuff, Glorantha and The Known World (and later other settings like Hârn and Shadow World). We also used it for our b/x, RuneQuest and later AD&D and even GURPS Fantasy games. It was highly anachronistic, mixing fantasy styles as well as ancient to medieval timeframes in a bizarre mix.

And it was awesome. 

This Christmas season I have thinking of different fantasy worlds and rule sets and I have come to the conclusion that I use far too much precious prep time on various system and game world related issues. (In this post from last year I discussed some thoughts on my then four ongoing world projects).

That is why I have decided to combine all these ideas into one (in)coherent whole: Terra Innominata.

This new world will incorporate all the different stuff that I have used different worlds for. I will also mash up the campaign flavours, not solely playing Dark Fantasy but also insert more easy going stuff in one and the same setting.

And even more bizarre, I will do as I did back then: I will use the same world for both d100 and OSR gaming.

Hopefully, this will put back the magic into world-building and designing cool adventures.

To do this, I have made a very crude continent-size map of what’s there and how these lands relate to each other. As before, my world will be seriously influenced by The World Between (from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque), Ravenloft, Planescape, Warhammer’s Old World but also by literary sources like the Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski and the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie.

It will be Low Fantasy. It will be Dark. It will be hard. But there will be beacons of light and civilisation. And Sigil. And hope. And Heroes. A place for adventure.

And it will be awesome.

Building Better Worlds

Starting out a new world

Starting out a new world – Terra Innominata

After having been in dark fantasy land for a long while now, recent 5E D&D online playing in Forgotten Realms have made me think about a more traditional high (well, not THAT high) fantasy world to use as a base for adventures.

While there is a bunch of nice worlds to use, they often contain a lot of stuff I think is lame. Also, worlds like Forgotten Realms, Glorantha, Greyhawk and Mystara have existed for so long and have so much official lore written about them that most of the time I just feel dis-empowered and kinda loose interest when I read the books.

My way of handling this is to cannibalize stuff from all over the place and put it into my own loosely defined “Frankenstein world”. I did this with my long standing AD&D game long ago when I mixed up The Known World (predecessor to Mystara), Glorantha, Hârn, Shadow World with my own stuff.

So my next project is a large standard fantasy world to house stuff from all the cool settings out there. The picture is a first sketch of my “Terra Innominata” world with mini-settings from OpenQuest and RuneQuest plopped in. Got the idea for the map outlines this summer when I lay on the beach and some particularly interesting cloud formations came into my view.

At this point I have four different fantasy worlds going on:

1. Nexus Mundi (OSR dark fantasy, much inspired by the excellent works Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque)

2. Innominata Maligna (d100 dark fantasy, basically Ravenloft minus the in my book lame things).*

3. Terra Innominata (d100 standard fantasy, collecting a bunch of cool d100 settings into a coherent whole).

4. Mittelwelt [work name] (OSR high fantasy, mixing up the things I like about Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, NOD and others).

I have also been thinking of using the same world for both d20/OSR and d100 gaming. It would certainly make things easier, but also is laden with some problems as some basic assumptions (like how gods and magic works) are quite different.

But building better worlds is fun. Weyland-Yutani was right.

* = apparently I’m not alone in the Ravenloft critique field, as Jack Shear in running a series of interesting blog posts on the issue.

The Only Fantasy World Map you’ll ever need

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need by eotbeholder@deviantart

I love this. Probably no news to most of you, but I just found it. And maybe some of you haven’t seen it before so…

Actually, I’ve been thinking along similar lines for outlining my expanded version of Jack Shear’s World Between – Nexus Mundi.

No need to create a huge and detailed world map before you start adventuring. At the same time I like to have at least a clue to the World and where stuff might be located.

Creating a rough map labeled with concepts and ideas instead of countries or regions is just pure genius. Just like the World Between books, where boring details are absent and instead the energy is put into evocative ideas and flavorful suggestions for adventure.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me this is the way to go.

If you’re interested, here’s eotbeholder’s home page


World Between Map

Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque does not include maps. However, there’s this beautiful map from Fictive Hack. I have been using it so far, but I think I will make my own version and integrate into Nexus Mundi.

Here’s my first rough idea of the world, with the World Between in the middle. My huge playground!


Nexus Mundi world map