Woden’s Day Wanderings: A Flexible Setting for DFRPG

Phil Reed said:
Re: The Future of the DFRPG

Originally Posted by Turhan’s Bey CompanyView Post
From a GM’s point of view, a single Pyramid article can’t contain nearly enough material to be useful.

Also: Hidden behind a wall.

What would be a far more valuable approach to “Imma make a setting!” would be a dedicated blog. Regular updates. Free to the world. Tagged and properly categorized posts. A Dungeon Fantasy Patreon, for example, with free and pay content . . . and then everything collected after X months into a book.

And with those words by Phil Reed, a fire was kindled. Quickly tamped down, though. Start here at Phil’s post, and then read on, and you’ll see that SJG isn’t really contemplating any immediate changes to their online policy or method for supporting GURPS.

The topic of conversation, of course, involved what might help support the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG hereafter), and one thing that has been floated is having some sort of official setting, or something similar. Rob Conley offered up his Blackmarsh as an example, and Matt Riggsby (Turhan’s Bey Company on the forums and other names elsewhere) countered that Blackmarsh was more in the line of a location.

Now, Blackmarsh’s quoted land area is about 12,000 square miles. This is the land area of Maryland.

The primary map of Golarion is said to be about 6.25 million square miles. Iceland, whose Vikings, unlike my own from Minnesota, actually managed to range forth and conquer stuff, is 40,000 square miles. Great Britain (and Minnesota, actually) both are on the order of 80-90,000 square miles (Minnesota is larger than all of Great Britain). Great Britain, of course, as of roughly 1920 ruled over the largest empire in the world. And also managed to host the legends of Arthur, Robin Hood, and the real Hundred Years War and rather much else.

I was pondering how to allow some freedom for other parties to create for the DFRPG, to provide both ample room for creativity and different artistic and cultural voices while at the same time giving common threads that would allow a GM to simply pick and choose from these settings in a way that was both coherent and pleasing.

And I think I have.

A Geographical Oddity

General Store Clerk: I can get the part from Bristol. It’ll take two weeks. Here’s your pomade.
Everett: Two weeks? That don’t do me no good.
Clerk: Nearest Ford auto man’s Bristol.
Everett: Hold on, now. I don’t want this pomade. I want Dapper Dan.
Clerk: I don’t carry Dapper Dan. I carry Fop.
Everett: Well, I don’t want Fop, goddammit. I’m a Dapper Dan man.
Clerk: You watch your language, young fella. This is a public market. If you want Dapper Dan, I can order it for you, have it in about two weeks.
Everett: Well ain’t this place a geographical oddity! Two weeks from everywhere!

-O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

While I’ll lead with that quote from a pretty darn good movie, I’ll follow it with a concept from Traveller: that regardless of distance, a ship pretty much took a week to get anywhere in jump space.

Well, let’s run with that. Checking out the typical speeds, if one can state such a thing, of sailing ships, a slow rate of 0-2mph, a with-the-wind and doing well rate of 4-6mph (knots, really, but handwave that), and an average of about 3mph seems about right.

So if you want disparate geographical regions to be about a week’s travel away, they’ll be 24 hours x 3mph x 7 days = almost exactly 500 miles away.



So, interestingly, if we take the total surface area of the world (about 197 million square miles) and divide it into 300 equal portions, we get about 656,000 square miles per portion. That’s a chunk of land about as large as midway between Iran and Libya. Or pretty much all of continental Europe if you take Germany and Italy, exclude Switzerland, and then take everything west of there. Point is, it’s plenty of land to adventure in.

Also turns out that if you take a hexagon 1,000 miles from point to point (making each side 500 miles), you can fit perhaps 300 of them (303.2) on planet Earth.

And if you’re looking for separation, well, that means that if you take a hexagonal plot of land, and ring it with an ocean 250 miles wide, you wind up with a hex of 500 miles point-to-point nestled inside a strip of ocean 250 miles wide. Put two of these together, and you have 500 miles of ocean to cross at an average rate of one week’s travel time (3-4 days with a favorable wind, and two weeks without one).

The area of that inner hexagon? About the same as California (a bit more than 162,000 square miles), which makes it larger than the UK by 60%, or equal to roughly the land area of Iceland and Norway combined (Vikings!). Or Germany and Austria. It’s about 500 miles across the longest point, which will take 200 to 250 hours of travel to yomp across assuming Move 4 or 5 and Move/2 average hourly travel rate (per High-Tech p. 55). That’s about a month. Ish.

Wilderness or Ocean

One idea that occurs to me as I think about it is that not all the “border” area must be 250 miles of ocean. Any sort of “wilderness” would do. Grasslands, mysterious forests, perhaps endless deserts, swamps, mountains, or combinations of those. No matter what, the key is to allow tiles to be placed next to each other and have a vaguely defensible transition zone between stuff that (say) I write, stuff that Christopher wrote, etc.

Being able to mix-and-match different creators’ works is the key step here.

The Dungeon Fantasy Archipelago

The point? It would be ridiculously easy to set up a planet with 300 of these hexes, and let up to 300 different folks create “tiles” that are each a week’s sailing a part and that it takes roughly a month to hike across. Heck, if you wanted to, you could give out 50 parcels of 6 hexes each, and have lands the size of the USA, China, or Canada.

Fifty of them.

Each could be their own setting.

There are all sorts of ways to divvy this up. 300 might be a bit crazy-time, but I’m partial to the idea of parceling them out to an independent creative team in blocks of four tiles. This would allow either one full-sized land tile (and the other three would be assumed to be water, preserving the roughly 75-25 water-land ratio), or all four as islands.

I should note that the most important parts of Etera, the Dragon Heresy setting, would fit within a single land hex. Again, lots of room for adventuring.

The nifty thing about each surrounded-by-water hex as a somewhat independent setting area would be that you could mix-and-match. If one author has a nifty all-Viking setting in four tile, and another has done ancient Rome, and a third has Native American tribes, a fourth has African empires . . . a prospective GM could simply mix and match to create their own map of the world. Each one is a week’s sailing from the others – more if you plunk down an empty water tile – but basically it’s mix and match. Slap a traditional feudal setting in the center, put a frozen barbarian one to the north, and then a blank water tile, and then an asian-inspired one, and poof, you’ve got adventures and character types from each setting.

It also allows a great deal of creative flexibility, and the archipelago concept, while a bit of a conceit, provides limited sandboxes in which to play. Each one would consume Blackmarsh more than a dozen times over, or the prime game real estate from The Majestic Wilderlands (though the full map would take maybe eight hexes or so). Golarion’s prime map area is but ten hexes.

But in true DFRPG sandbox fashion, it would allow an author to set up a fairly interesting adventure area – several of them – and then still connect to a broader world if one wished. To reach another hex would require at a minimum two weeks overland journey, followed by a week at sea. It’s not the endless steppes . . . but then, the entire Gobi desert fits within one hex, as does the Great Plains of the USA.

The Only Answer?

Clearly, there’d be other ways to approach this. The great DFRPG archipelago could be done as 300 tiles, approximately evenly spaced through the world. 

Or, one could perhaps steal from Traveller again, and turn the world into a d20. 20 big triangles, each with about 30-some individual hexes. That’d be each hex being 118,500 square miles (20% larger than the United Kingdom), and about 350 miles across. 700 miles would take about 9-10 days to sail across, or 280 hours to hike (again, about a month). Lots of resources available out there to turn such icosahedral maps into cool-looking planets too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The reason I started down this path is to try and find a way to bridge Matt’s and Rob’s points. By giving each potential author a fairly hefty chunk of land ranging from 120,000 to 650,000 square miles, that’s more than enough to give room to move and populate with dungeons and adventure. One could easily imagine adventuring for years in the United Kingdom alone (one Traveller-size Hex, or the UK + Iceland surrounded by ocean for Vikings vs. Knights) and not running out of things to do . . . but if you do, you can nab whatever kind of “next tile over” setting that strikes your fancy.

Bordering each design area in water (which is why groups of hexes might be useful) means you can always tack areas together, and so long as you don’t stack up more than a few hundred of them, you won’t run out of planet any time soon.

I think the idea has potential, and it would allow creators to work independently and in ideal DFRPG fashion not be forced to read every other author’s setting or background in order to understand the rest of the world.

It of course also enables folks with pre-existing setting material to pour it all into a portable, GURPS-friendly format, which means a giant surge of material would be available when the game hits the market, if given the right structure and enough runway.

31 thoughts on “Woden’s Day Wanderings: A Flexible Setting for DFRPG

  1. I dropped out of that particular thread on the forums, but seeing this:

    “Rob Conley offered up his Blackmarsh as an example, and Matt Riggsby (Turhan’s Bey Company on the forums and other names elsewhere) countered that Blackmarsh was more in the line of a location.”

    …followed by this…

    “The reason I started down this path is to try and find a way to bridge Matt’s and Rob’s points.”

    …pushes me back into it, because I feel this misrepresents my position.

    I’d like to circle, boldface, and double-underline something: THIS IS A SEMANTIC QUIBBLE. ROB AND I DO NOT HAVE A SUBSTANTIVE DISAGREEMENT ON THIS POINT. THERE IS NOTHING TO BRIDGE. The word “setting” implies certain things to me. It implies other things to Rob. That’s it. Arguing over whether, say, The County-State of the Insufferable Overlord is a setting, a campaign frame, a location, a sandbox, or some other buzzword is a waste of time and effort which could otherwise be used to create something useful.

    Now, that quibble happens to obscure what might be a slightly more meaningful disagreement about how long a work needs to be sufficiently useful for GMs and players to run games in the long term. This is coming out of a suggestion by someone else that a Pyramid article would be sufficient to provide a DF setting; that is what I disagreed with. It’s more about the number of words or pages than about the number of square miles. It looks like I really want something longer than what Rob’s putting forward; what I’d regard as an adequate [thing I’m calling a setting] would be composed of multiple instances of [things Rob is calling a setting]. But I haven’t followed that up, since it’s not a very useful discussion either (not very useful, as opposed to an utterly pointless attempt to come up with a universal definition for “setting”). I have a preference for the size of a work I’d want to serve a particular sort of purpose. Rob has his. I am delighted to leave it at that.

    That said, do carry on with coming up with a framework for a cooperative world-building effort.

    1. A reasonable point, of course. Still – the scalability and accessibility of everything from setting, region, location, and encounter-level information is the sinew and ligamenture required for plug-and-play utility. In Pathfinder, it’s a giant realm of information involved in the Golarion setting. GURPS DF doesn’t need that, but for both official and fan-produced material, some guidance as to what’s what is a good idea. The concept of how fractal to make the building of usable game bits was what your conversation with Rob sparked in my brain.

    2. I hope I don’t sound like I am trying to argue the definition of what is a setting here. The point of my advocating that a “setting” can be done in a pyramid sized article is to point that I and others have came up with a way of presenting information about geography and what is there in a compact form that will allow for a lot of information to passed on about the place and a serve as the foundation for at least several sessions of a fantasy campaign. As a shortcut I call it a hex-crawl formatted setting.
      One reason it works the way it does is because if you design it right each individual hexes can combine to build up a larger picture of the whole. Now some information about the place just has to be written about which is why are still going to need an introduction.
      Regardless of the individual points over this issues, the thing that hangs over all of it is limited resources. SJ Games doesn’t have the manpower to do X is heard over and over again.
      I am not against the traditional travelogue format that most setting are written. Nor I am against how SJ Games traditionally treated settings with their unique mix. But both approaches are more resource intensive than what I suggest.
      Any Matt and other fans of a full treatment of a setting can get what they want with my ideas it just won’t be in one work. Instead it will be built up region by region just like the overall picture of that region is mostly built up hex by hex.
      Because each hexcrawl that much less of an investment of time and resource this also means that more risk can be taken over the liftespan. Write three to four things you know that appeals and then try something “out there” for the next one. If it bombs you not out much and you know not to do again.
      Finally this will be a non-issue for SJ Games if they let those fans willing to do the work to shoulder the risk. Again get some some Community Content thing or licensed IP program going. With that SJ Games can see what works and doesn’t without having to take the risk themselves.

    1. And this is one of the reasons I find it compelling – “OH, I can convert my stuff to this!” means a huge surge of available “tiles” in the critical period right at rollout.

      I’m seriously considering ramping this up as a systemless product line anyway, regardless of DFRPG.

  2. Perhaps if two or more contributors joined at the same time, their shared hex-edge(s) could be an agreed-upon uninhabited area (steppes, desert, perhaps dense forest or jungle) instead of ocean.

    1. Absolutely, though one would want to ensure mix-and-match. The key for . . . call it the “style guide” would be to set up “rules” that ensure that any two setting tiles could be plunked next to each other with no required collaboration. I’d also want the only referencing allowed to be the five books included in the DFRPG, so that you would either reference the setting book itself, or the main DFRPG, but not some other person’s creation.

  3. Again, we have a precedent of sorts for this, albeit on a smaller scale: Tenkar’s Landing.


    For doing this, we’d want some ground rules, like sizes of the sub hexes and how some things work. We’d likely want an overall world map with the coastlines, mountains, and big rivers all ready to go, and we might want to have some setting details like the ones in Jeff Rients’s 20 questions answered (though some of those won’t be the same from hex to hex).

    As I said on the forum, this would work. This is a pretty good idea of how to do it, too.

  4. Honestly, this concept seems almost orthogonal to what I would want a setting for. I can map unrelated local areas just fine. The map is not the territory. What I want from a setting is a shared background that the players have access to so they can can feel connected to a larger world. I also want motivations for for major NPC actors and inspirational adventure hooks. I want cosmology, grand history, polities, and culture, all on the global rather that local scale.

    1. The size I’m talking about, whether it’s “only” the UK plus Iceland (165,000 sq miles) or the bigger hexes that are basically “all of Europe to the left of the eastern borders of Germany and Italy” are more than enough to support all of that. But if I don’t like that particular cosmology and regional history, I’m shut out of further shared developments. If each one can be local, I’m not. I can certainly say “Hey, I really like the cosmology that Cole put into his hex; I’m going to steal it,” and that would be cool and linked. But I don’t HAVE to, and I think that’s important.

      DnD through WotC supported at least, what . . . three different settings? (Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance?) We want to be at *least* that flexible, I think.

      1. Those were separate settings though. I don’t have much use for a setting with utterly unconnected elements. It doesn’t actually do anything that I want a setting for, and fails even the minimal versimiltude that
        I expect from a dungeon delving setting (if region Q was settled by a diaspora, I would expect the same peoples to be found in other regions two; if region J was part of an empire, I would expect other remnants of the empire to exist elsewhere; if a god created the universe in region P he logically created the universe in every other region too, or they aren’t the same universe, and so on).

        The last two published settings I have used in dungeon delving type games were //Eberron// and //Golarion// both of which are meaty hardcovers with a global cosmology, timeline and so on. Both have maps of an entire continent and leave local maps to the GM or future supplements.

        1. “if a god created the universe in region P he logically created the universe in every other region too, or they aren’t the same universe, and so on”

          Gods and logic don’t necessarily go together! Many areas have mutually exclusive beliefs and in a fantasy world they can all be true.

          Check out ‘City of Stairs’ by Robert Jackson Bennett for a world built around this premise.

  5. I’d love to get more GURPS gaming in, but for me personally it isn’t the game worlds that I’m missing. There’s fluff-a-plenty, and it’s really the icing on the cake of gaming.
    Crunch is the difficult bit. Putting GURPS stats on NPCs and critters. Mixing these together into high-quality adventures would be even better. DnD get’s lots of mileage out of their campaign worlds, but they grew out of places to host adventures. Adventures are what you actually do at the table.
    Even converting modules is problematic (to my mind) as the vast majority of modules are written for D&D or one of it’s clones and so have the idea of level and ‘zero to hero’ built in to them. Extracting this assumption from the materials so that the baseline is a more GURPS-friendly ‘start competent and end up highly competent but still basically human’ is also somewhat challenging / time consuming.
    If I could crack those two issues (converting creatures and flattening the power curve) then I would already have a huge back-catalogue of campaign worlds and modules to game with.
    I don’t think I’m alone, though there aren’t a lot of people jumping up and down for this kind of support, whilst there is a lot of people getting excited about the potential for a DF world.
    I guess people will volunteer to do the bits that they are interested in! 🙂

    1. Personally I would like to split the difference and outline a setting for an adventure path, and then write that first, then if there is demand flesh the setting out. Just like Paizo initially did with Golarion.

      1. I do like the concept of adventure paths, or the equivalent. Connected locations or adventure themes that can unload some of the work from the GM and get things moving.

      2. I’d still love to run a series of games in Etera, the Dragon Heresy core world, using the DFRPG. The two are made for each other.

      3. Sounds like a sensible approach. Have a ‘helicopter’ view of the setting as a whole to provide context, then dive into detail where it directly supports the adventures.

  6. Thinking on scale, I worked with a shape to my world a little like Western Europe, and I had borrowed stylistic elements from Banestorm, like having iters built by a world lost Roman legion, and the central area being Aral. Might be acceptable, might not. I should start blogging more about the local features.

  7. Here’s what we’ll need:

    1) A rough outline of the world, with coastlines, mountain ranges, and big rivers. Unlike many things in DF, we’d want some predictable realism for this.
    2) A very rough history. Mostly, we need just enough to avoid truly embarrassing juxtapositions. If there are separate regions, we’ll want separate histories for each. I’m talking stuff like the Cataclysm in Dragonlance.
    3) A method of handling border hexes, at least for hexes developed at the same time. For later ones, the first one developed would dictate.
    4) Hex sizes. I’d go with 25 or 36 mile major hexes and 5 or 6 minor hexes. Typically, there’s only one major location per major hex.
    5) Something like a Google+ or Facebook community.
    6) Some kind of document for shareable elements. A bestiary, list known magic items (and notes to see which ones are placed and which ones are not), rumors about major encounters, reasons to trade, religious cults.

    A simple ground rule at first: if it’s in DFRPG, it’s in this world.

    1. I definitely have a cataclysmic event shaping my world, (a umana disaster that transposed populations, caused a massive meteor shower and consequential increase in meteoric iron, plus earthquakes) and a recent outbreak of bubonic plague (40 years out) that created a lot of vacant ruins and allowed for repopulation. These items could be localized to a modest geographic area (one of Doug’s large hexes) but I think a global outbreak of plague two generations ago makes for a good setting.

      1. Nymdok: I went with the sizes I chose since they easily subdivide into usable hex sizes (5- and 6-miles). Forty miles doesn’t. You want this to be a perfect square of a smaller number.

        RSC: You know I had that guide in mind, right?

        1. Why does it need to be a square number?
          A 40-mile hex can be divided into eight five-mile hexes. That seems easy enough.

          1. Most maps of superimposed hexes on hexes divide down four to six deep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hexes subdivided eight hexes across. You want the superimposed hex to show where the hex boundaries were of the bigger hex. Forty miles is this too big since almost no paper subdivides eight hexes down. Go with 36 miles if you want that scale; a 6 mile hex works.

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