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Chapter 2: Tools / Building Worlds

Civilization

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 124
With the major geographical features and terrain of your world decided, you’ll next want to establish significant nations and settlements.

When it comes to designing a world’s cultures, you might want to focus primarily on those areas the party is likely to explore first. This allows you to establish the details and depth of one region’s peoples before expanding out to address others. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have ideas about the cultures beyond your starting settlement—it just means you don’t need to decide every detail of every culture all at once.

As always, you don’t need to demarcate every realm on the globe or indicate every town, hamlet, and thorp. Keep your focus on what you need for your story and your adventure—leaving terra incognita can lead to stories down the road as the party ventures further from home.

Societal Benchmarks

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 124
The following sections can help you establish certain truths about your world as a whole. From there, you can decide the details of specific cultural groups, including whether they deviate from these global standards.

Technology

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 124
Throughout history, a major driver of world culture has been the continuous advancement of technology in warfare, agriculture, and industry. The following categories roughly approximate real‑world technological levels, but progress might vary on your world. What heights of technology have been achieved? Have any groups fallen behind or leaped ahead?

Primeval: Weapons and tools in this early era are crafted primarily from bone, wood, or stone. Knowledge of stonecutting allows early civilizations to raise stone walls and buildings.

Ancient: Advancements in mining and metallurgy lead to weapons and tools made from bronze. Crop rotation and storage in granaries ensure greater survival in times of famine. Trade between river and coastal settlements is aided by oar‑ and sail‑powered galleys. Chariots come into strong use during warfare.

Classical: Superior military tactics and engineered roads allow for rapid deployment of infantry wielding iron weapons and aided by mounted cavalry. Advances in complex irrigation and construction of aqueducts lead to an abundance of harvest foods and dramatic improvements to sanitation.

Medieval: Warfare in this era is defined by iron armor, crossbows, and weapons forged of fine steel.

Enlightenment: The development of black powder and muzzle‑loaded, single‑shot firearms greatly changes warfare, making plate armor mostly obsolete. Larger ships permit ocean crossings and long‑range trade to distant shores. The printing press speeds literacy and the dissemination of new ideas.

Steam: Steam engines replace conveyances drawn by animal power or sail, leading to a significant shift from wood fuel to coal. Further advances in science lead to dirigible airships and observation balloons. Simple firearms are replaced by repeating revolvers and bolt action rifles.

Divine Involvement

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 124
What is the nature of the gods? Do they even exist? If so, are they omnipotent and omniscient? How does a follower request their divine favor? The answers to these questions will help you determine how strongly divine faith impacts the cultures of your world.

None: Deities do not exist in this world, or if they do, they are oblivious to or completely unconcerned with mortal affairs. If they exist, they don’t make their presence known, nor do they grant power to their worshippers.

Limited: Deities exist, though they remain aloof from the mortal world and make their divine presence known only to a chosen few.

Accepted: Divine influence is an accepted fact of everyday life. Their will is enacted through priests and organized religions. Divine avatars may appear in the world during extreme circumstances.

Ubiquitous: Deities live among mortals, exerting their divine will directly. Gods rule entire nations, commanding absolute obedience from their faithful followers.

Magic

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 124
Does magic exist? If so, which traditions are available? What are the sources of a spellcaster’s power, and how do they gain and channel that magic?

No Magic: Magic of any kind does not exist in this world. Spells and magic effects do not function. Consider the variants on page 196 to handle the lack of magic items.

Low Magic: Magic is mysterious and taboo. The few practitioners of the mystical arts are feared or shunned. Again, consider the variants on page 196 to handle the relative scarcity of magic items.

Common: Magic is an accepted fact of everyday life, though its mysteries are beyond the reach of most people. Magic portals and gates can whisk travelers “in the know” halfway across the world or to the other side of the multiverse.

High Magic: Magic and magical items are commonplace in society. It may be as easy to learn spellcasting as it is to learn a new language. Magical objects simulate various modern technologies.

Designing Nations

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 125
For any nation you establish in your setting, you’ll want to provide at least a minimal description—the core concept of that nation. The amount of additional detail you provide depends on the needs of your story. You likely want to establish enough information to create a stat block (page 130) for the nation your adventurers are from, any nations they’re likely to spend significant time in, and those nations’ main allied and enemy nations, if they are likely to become part of the plot.

When building a nation, remember that the various elements connect to the history of the land and its people, its relationships with nearby nations, and the current residents. This interconnectedness will help you build a wealth of story hooks and provide immersive detail for your players.

Beyond those basic details, the following considerations can help flesh out the nations in your setting.

Location, Size, and Population

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 125
Major geographical boundaries, such as mountains, seas, and large rivers, often present natural borders for a realm. Depending on its leadership, culture, and the resources available, a country may be as small as a city‑state or as large as a continent‑sweeping empire. Barring widely available technological or magical travel and communication, most nations remain relatively small (only a few hundred miles across), simply because it becomes too difficult for a single governing entity to oversee and maintain the entirety of a larger state.

National populations ebb and flow due to a multitude of external factors. Advances in sanitation, medicine, and agriculture can spur dramatic population growth, while war, famine, or plague can devastate it. As a rule, smaller nation‑states have a population around a hundred thousand, while a continent‑spanning empire could swell to well over a hundred million.

Population size is only part of the equation. Figuring out the ancestry ratios of that population and brainstorming how the members of various ancestries interact can often lead to interesting story ideas, or at least give you some jumping‑off points when dreaming up how the nation was founded and its later history.

Cultural Hallmarks

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
What elements of the nation’s predominant culture stand out? A nation might have an unusual stance on religion, a specific demographic, distinctive natural features, noteworthy political views, or any number of unique elements that differentiate it from other nations in your region. These hallmarks can inform your decisions about many other aspects of the nation.

History

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
How did the nation come to be? Has it stood since time immemorial, a bastion of stability while the rest of the world changes around it? Perhaps it was built over the ruins of another civilization, destroyed by some forgotten calamity. Or perhaps it is a young nation, born recently amid ongoing strife in your world. What remnants of the past can be found, or has the past been deliberately hidden? How have the residents of the nation adapted to change, and in what ways have they failed to do so?

Economy and Political Stances

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
Determine the key resources and industries that drive the nation’s economy. The availability of natural resources can establish national boundaries, local industry, and other elements of the resident society. For example, an area with few resources might have a nomadic society, while a nation rich in resources might develop an opulent mercantile class.

These resources can also affect international relationships. An area poor in a specific resource might have a strong trade relationship with a nearby nation that has it, or they might be at war! Nations also disagree about political structures, public policy, religion, and any number of other factors.

You’ll also want to consider the significant NPCs of each nation. This includes the official ruler, but it also includes other major players, whether they act in an official capacity or entirely behind the scenes.

Building Settlements

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
In Pathfinder, settlements are where characters can rest, recharge, retrain, and dedicate themselves to other downtime activities all in relative peace. Traditionally, an adventuring band comes together in some kind of settlement, be it a small hamlet nestled on the border of some wild frontier or a bustling port city at the heart of a nation. Some adventures take place entirely within a single settlement, while in others the party visits settlements only briefly between their adventures in the wilderness.

The first thing you should consider when building a settlement is its role in your story. Is this a major metropolis the heroes will visit again and again during their adventurers? A backwater village where their adventures begin? The distant capital from which an evil tyrant issues cruel edicts? The settlement’s campaign role will inform many of the other decisions you make about the place.

Once you know why you need the settlement, consider why it would exist in the world. Settlements are typically founded near sources of fresh drinking water; most commonly along a riverbank or a place with access to adequate wells or springs. They additionally require some kind of transit to other places, either roads or waterways. While it may be easier to create a village or city merely to serve the characters’ needs, determining what function it has independent of the characters adds verisimilitude and can provide hooks for further stories.

Settlements, on page 132, describes the components of a settlement stat block, which you should create for any settlement you expect your characters to visit. The process of creating that stat block will help you further flesh out your community.

Mapping a Settlement

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of sketching a map of significant settlements, like the one where your adventure starts. This isn’t intended to be a picture‑perfect rendition drawn to scale, but rather to outline the rough shape and size of the settlement. Be sure to highlight a few key structures useful to the campaign. For more inspiration, see the section on Drawing Maps (page 52).

Step 1. City Layout: The layout of a settlement is as unique as the terrain upon which it is settled. First, decide the major trade route for the settlement. This is typically a river, which brings fresh water, fish, and fast transport to the populace. Larger cities can sustain additional growth with access to a deep‑water harbor or a major overland trade road. Even settlements conceived with a grid plan tend to stretch along established trade routes before expanding outwards.

Step 2. Districts: Towns with a population over a thousand typically have defensive walls. As a settlement grows further in size and population, additional stone fortifications are often constructed beyond the city center, which further segment the city into districts or boroughs. A metropolis, for example, might have several distinct neighborhoods: Castle Ward, Noble Quarter, Temple Hill, the Gardens, Scholars’ Court, Artisan Plaza, the docks, the slums, and so forth.

Step 3. Markets and Shops: Designate one or more open spaces in the settlement for a market square. This marketplace typically grows in the city center, along a major road intersecting the settlement’s primary trade route. Lining the perimeter of the temporary tents and stalls of a bazaar are permanent retail shops offering pricier goods and services. Here in the beating heart of city commerce, adventurers can arm themselves for upcoming expeditions or sell their ill‑gotten gains once making it back to the settlement.

Step 4. Inns: Heroes need a place to celebrate and recover between adventures. In addition to both public and private lodging, a settlement’s inns often serve food and drink. As with the town market, inns are commonly built in central locations where trade roads meet. In your campaign, inns are ideal locations to spread gossip, introduce notable NPCs, and initiate quests. For the right price, innkeepers might rent strongboxes to secure money and other valuables between adventures.

Step 5. Landmarks: To give your cities a sense of personality and local flavor, design a handful of iconic landmarks for the PCs to visit. Memorable names make these landmarks more interesting. A random observatory might be noteworthy, but the Celestial Watchtower has an air of intrigue that could lead to a fun adventure hook.