B is for Borders of Despair #AtoZChallenge

One of the appeals to me of roleplaying gaming is creating worlds. I’ve always been a fan of mapmaking, so it’s a natural fit. My husband gave me a cartography program for Christmas back in 2003, and I employed it in 2004 to create the maps for Borders of Despair.

Current Empire - Borders of DespairThe basis for the setting was the geographical area of central Alabama, where I live. A great black wyrm, awakened from its slumbers in the south, was attracted by the riches of the great city of Betbryth and laid waste to the heart of the Gulf States, creating a vast swamp known as the Despair. Only the northernmost province in the foothills of the mountains, The State of Calloo, survived.

It was great fun to deform the map of the southeastern United States to create a swamp. (Click on the image at left to see the whole map.) Scott, my frequent partner-in-gaming, helped create the setting, and in fact came up with the main idea for the fantasy post-apocalyptic setting. He created a wonderful character, Fideous ap Geraith, Defender of the Wall, determined to find and slay the dragon that destroyed his civilization, despite being called a traitor for fighting against the current empire.

Here’s the text he wrote about his character:

They called us cowards. They call us traitors still.  They do not understand.  I was only a child, but I understood. I have said my words, taken up my sword, and I am now a man, and I understand better still.

When I was a child, playing in the dirt of a rough log cabin with the other boys and girls they told us about the glory of the Republic-that-was.  They told us of equality and justice, of free and fair markets, of magic and wonder.  They also told us of the Enemy.  The Shattered Horn, the Eater of Kingdoms and Bringer of Despair, Foulheart, he of whom most will not speak: Vanargan the Black, the dragon that destroyed the Republic-that-was.

When I was child, playing in the dirt of the rough log cabin with my puppy the Empire came to raze our little village on the edge of Despair.  My father was away in service, and there was no warrior at home but me, a child of five.  They came for my mother and me.  I stood firm before them, between the door and my mother.  I was small, and the men were large, and though I hit one with a log from the fire I could not stop them.  The last I saw was that Harrier, my pup little more than a year old, defended me.  His teeth sank into the flesh of our attacker.  He too they batted aside.

When I awoke, in the ruins of the rough log cabin that had been my home, my mother was gone.  Beside me lay the tiny form of Harrier, broken and still. They had left me for dead, and so I might have been had my father and the others not arrived soon thereafter.

They called us cowards, and they have called me a traitor.  They did not understand then, and they do not understand now.  How could our order sue for peace?  How could we agree to stand neutral as the Empire swept in and took our homeland?  Simple. Because it is not our home.  Our home lies many leagues to the south, beneath muck and mire and dragon shit.

My many times great grandfather of my mother’s side had been a merchant prince in the Republic-that-was, and she taught me the stories of that land as she heard them and her parents had heard them.  As she lived she taught me this above all other things: there is but one enemy, the Dragon, and while it lives we will not be distracted from its undoing.   She would have understood what my father and the other members of the Guiding Council did that day when they signed the Vow to not take up arms against the Empire.  She would have supported it.

She has been dead for thirteen years, and the Empire now rules this land.  I have said my words and I am now a man; but more than that, I am a man with a purpose.  Let the Empire play evil games of power and deception, I will stand my vigil.  Let men think us traitors, I will serve as watch for them in the night.  For we are the Sentinels of the Wall, guardians of Betbryth, jeweled city of the Republic-that-was.  We watched over her until the Dragon came and our brothers of old died on her walls, and we will watch over her again.

Until that day, I greet the sunrise and say my words again as I look to the south.  I put on the robes of white and burgundy, without device or signet until the walls are raised again. I lift my sword then and meditate on my past and on my future.  My father says if I keep my words true one day Harrier will come from the Bright Lands to fight beside me, I long for that day.  When the sun is fully up I say the name of the Dragon.  One day he will hear me, and he will answer me, and on that day he will die.

Then and only then, with the creature’s black blood on my blade and Harrier at my side, I will task the Empire on the matter of my mother’s death.

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  1. Creating worlds is fascinating. Each time a fresh start, fresh options, and the same bloody pitfalls… 😉

  2. I’ve created many worlds for many campaigns over the years. While I love it I often find I end up with extra material that doesn’t get used.

    In recent days I’ve tended to start small and build outward, designing only the characters’ immediate surroundings and then growing as they travel and encounter new areas/people.

    • Yeah, CD, you’re right about extra material. I think your approach is a good way to do it. So little time these days for detailed, fully-fleshed out worlds. Thanks for stopping by!

    • I agree with your approach. I’d create enough to get a feel for the region, and particularly the starting area with a few options depending on which hooks the players latch onto. I’ve run into the problem where sometimes the players want to go west to the edge of the world when all I’ve planned is east.
      One of the tips I liked was the idea of “modular” planning. I might develop a network of rooms that can, with minor modification, be either the caves of the bloodthirsty beasts or the fortress of the rampaging orcs. If the party goes after orcs, great. If they go after the beasts, great.
      …so naturally they try to find a dragon somewhere.

      • I agree with you, Dave, about modular planning. I’ve done that before too. It works pretty well. I have a separate sheet for each location, with description, who’s there, hooks, etc. Works pretty well. I over-plan those as well. Thanks for commenting!


  1. […] like the idea Dave commented back on my Borders of Despair post, that of modular world planning, and CD Gallant-King’s idea of starting small and only building […]

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