Sunday, July 3, 2011

Making the Borderlands Part I

Today I decided not to use the Welsh Piper's excellent map stocking system.  Instead, I'll be using the system for "Designing the Setting" from the Rules Cyclopedia*.  Since I plan to use BECMI for the Borderlands campaign this seemed appropriate.

I'm going to detail the process in a series of posts, starting with this one.

1. Decide on the Terrain

This one I had done before I created the previous Borderlands map.  However, I don't really like the environment that map conveys.  In my mind the Borderlands is an almost new world style frontier.  I'm drawing inspiration for its flora and fauna from North America much more so than Europe.  It's rugged, mountainous, and untamed.  Despite the fact that he's unpopular in OSR circles, I've always found this piece by Keith Parkinson to be evocative:

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Now that I have a general understanding of what the Borderlands looks like, let's move on to the second step.

2. Draw Map(s) of the Area

One of my maps comes from B2 of course, but the Borderlands is a much larger area.  after switching some of the tilesets on my map to give it a slightly different flavor I get this:

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The design is loosely based off of Il Male's North Marches.

As regular readers can probably guess, I used the Welsh Piper system to determine the terrain itself.  It has a nice mixture of forests and mountains, as well as having the obligatory swamps that I will shove undead and frogs into.  I like it.  

3. Place the Home Town and Local Dungeons.

This wasn't too difficult.  I already knew what kind of terrain B2 needs -- it's very hilly -- so I just needed to pick a spot on the map that had a river running through some hills.  I also needed it to be on the western edge so that most of the exploration takes the party into the eastern wilderness.

click to embiggen

The town that appears is there so that the party can acquire things not normally available in the Keep itself.  I made sure it was about a day away, each small hex is 10 miles, in order to keep the party from visiting too regularly.  Even though it's very close, the journey from one to the other must still be dangerous since it's implied that traders travel along the roads in caravans to protect themselves.

4.  Locate Areas Under Human Control

This was easy.  The entire point of the Borderlands is that almost none of it is under human control.  I decided that the town needed some farmland around it and got this:

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That's the other reason the town needs to be there.  There isn't any farmland around the Keep itself, and the soldiers have to be fed.  For right now that's the only human settlements in the Borderlands that I'm aware of. If others show up they're "squatters" who do not pledge loyalty to the King of the Realm.

5. Locate Areas Under Nonhuman Control

This was a tad harder.  I needed it to be primarily lawless, but I also knew I wanted a declining Dwarfish kingdom and some Elves running around.  I determined much of what follows by looking at the humanoid entries for the random encounter tables in the RC.

click to embiggen

That's about as detailed as I'm getting for right now.  Eventually I'll put down some Dwarfish holds and Goblin villages, but that can wait.  The party hasn't even set foot into the caves of chaos yet.

Final notes

I'm a bit worried that the preponderance of goblinoids will be a bit boring, but it might work out.  I'm also not sure if I should leave the town there, or assume that it's a much longer journey off the map to the west.  Also: why the hell is there a road leading out into the Borderlands in B2? 

I'll complete steps 6-8 at some later point and post the results here.


* I'm not sure if these steps appeared in earlier products because I don't own them.  Also, if you think I should be using Moldvay/Cook instead of BECMI keep it to yourself.  I don't own Moldvay/Cook but I do own Mentzer Basic and the RC.


  1. What a fun-looking sandbox!

    I'm a bit worried that the preponderance of goblinoids will be a bit boring, but it might work out.

    My favorite old trick is to factionalize the goblinoids. Come up with 3-5 tribes, figure out how they relate to each other...if you're particularly ambitious you could even draw up tribal banners and the like. Looking at the map, you could have the goblinoids in the southeast led by militarized hobgoblins, giving them a far more martial and organized edge, while the goblinoids in the center forest could be relatively savage and tribal still (and riding giant spiders, to crib liberally from Warhammer).

  2. BECMI has spider-riding Goblins as well. I forget what they're called and what module they're from, but the Creature Catalog has both the Goblins and the Spiders. I think they may have popped in right around the time the Brits started writing modules for TSR.

    Evan, if you'd *like* a copy of B/X, I think I have an extra, but the rulebooks have long ago been excised and placed in page protectors (as suggested in the books themselves). Let me know if you'd like it, although it'd likely be the end of the week before I could get a parcel packed and shipped out.

  3. yeas, I'm with Sir Larkins on this one. The other thing to keep in mind though is that, if the players get bored with goblinoids, change it. Have another tribe or group of creatures displace the existing, goblinoids tribe into human territory.

    Theres your perfect way to introduce the new tribe right there: the PC's have to go see whats making all the goblinoids invade. If the newcomers turn out to be a bigger threat than the gobbo's, you might even see an alliance of human and goblinoid form to throw them back out.

  4. Forgot to say: Great campaign map by the way. Using the Encyclopedia has really worked for you.

  5. How broadly do you define "goblinoids?" Just out of idle curiosity.

    My intention with the Borderlands is to make most of the humanoids in the Caves goblinoids in the 3e and later sense (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears). Gnolls and Orcs are going to be bigger meaner hobs and bugbears (the laughing dog tribe and a couple of boar themed tribes, respectively).

    There is SO much potential in that module! I decided there was a road leading away from civilization because the Keep is in a strategic location. In one direction is the kingdom, in the other a frontier village or two - maybe some logging camps. Really depends on which way the river flows. I like the notion of cavalry patrols.