World Building – Part 6: Filling Your World

A world is just an empty place without people, places and things to fill it and bring it to life. My favorite fantasy worlds feel lived in and are places I want to explore even more. Last year, I decided it was finally time to tackle building my own fantasy world and in this article (Part 6), I share how I started filling my fantasy world, called Vodari, with detail. I am a rookie world builder, but that didn’t stop me from taking my ideas and turning them into my own world that my players and I are visiting each week. This article looks at the player options I provided and how I filled the world with people and places.

In my campaign, player character will typically spend more time sailing ships, exploring islands, and visiting seaport cities than dungeon delving. So this is an important consideration for my players when they are creating their characters. Make sure the player options you offer your players match for your campaign world and that you provide enough information for them to be able to create a PC that fits in that world.

Races of Vodari

In my campaign player’s handbook, for each race I provided context of their place in Vodari to add-on to the Player’s Handbook. Here is an example looking at humans in Vodari. A little info like this for each race is a big help and is usually included in campaign guides for published settings. These guidelines are also useful for creating NPC characters.

Playing a Human in Vodari

  • Humans were among the hardest hit by the Godwar and almost all of their former nations no longer exist.
  • Most of human history before the Godwar has been long forgotten with their libraries being lost to the sea when their cities sank.
  • The descendants of those surviving humans are the most physically diverse and numerous people in Vodari and can be found living on quiet farms, busting seaside cities or in barbarian villages to the far north. Human society is filled with a wide array of shared traditions, as the people of these lost nations have become one big cultural mix.
  • Human Kings, Lord Wardens, and Chancellors rule the southern islands. The peaceful co-existence of these nations is challenged daily by territory and trade disputes that could erupt into all out war.
  • You can select a human ethnicity from the Player’s Handbook p.30-31, create your own or select the common “mixed-ethnicity”.
  • Mixed-ethnicity is the norm for humans in both the northern and southern islands, even with the nobility. Only a small number of humans can trace back their lineage to the nations of the time before the Godwar.

Here is what I provided my players as guidelines for choosing a race…

You can create a player character using any race from the D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook and the added Minotaur race. Please consider the following when selecting a race for your character.

  • Humans, Halflings, High Elves, Rock Gnomes, Half-Elves and Hill Dwarves are common.
  • Mountain Dwarves tend to be found in their mountain home to the west, but would not be a rare sight in a larger settlement.
  • Forest Gnomes and Wood Elves are less common sights on the streets and seas of Vodari and they tend to keep to their forest homes.
  • Half-orcs are an extreme rarity in the civilized lands of the more southern islands. In barbarian lands, they would be less common, but could be found in neighboring tribes or even living in barbarian settlements.
  • Dragonborn and Tieflings are available as selections for a playable character. They are an extreme rarity on the streets and seas of Vodari.
  • Ice Dwarves, Aquatic Dwarves and Aquatic Elves are very rarely seen and even unknown by many people of the islands of Vodari.
  • The rarely seen Minotaur race is a playable character race and information on playing a Minotaur is available in this guide.

For class options, I didn’t see any reason to limit any of the classes. I tried to find a place in my world for swashbuckling rogues, wizards, monks, whatever. I also added a bunch of backgrounds that were specific to Vodari’s seafaring setting.

People & Places

Vodari is a world where chains of islands ring a large, never ending storm. Visitors to Vodari will find pastoral villages, luxurious palaces, treetop villages, mountain fortresses, wizard towers, dangerous ports, undersea cities and more. While most nations in the southern islands live in relative calm and peace, Vodari is a dangerous place with many perils. On the southern seas you’ll find pirates and sea monsters, crime filled ports and raging storms. To the west are the forested lands of the elves. To the north are wild, uncivilized islands with barbarians, orcs, monsters and dragons. To the east the dwarves fight a continuous war deep under the mountains. To the far south are unexplored islands with thick jungles and vast sand deserts. Under the sea a great war rages between the sea elves and saguagin.

For my world I looked at my map and though about where all the people would have settled and how they would have interacted over the last 1000 years. Once I had the nations are set out based on the map, I need to fill each settlement with locations and NPCs. I have provided a modified sample from my campaign notes from a settlement that I built out, using Pathfinder’s starter set for inspiration. Once you have locations and NPCs created, you can start to think about adventure hooks.

EXAMPLETON

Exampleton is a prosperous frontier port town full of fishermen, smugglers and anyone else you would find on the edge of civilization.

  • Alignment: LN
  • Population: 850
  • Demographics: Human 60%, Halfling 20%, Dwarf 10%, Elf 5%, Other 5%
  • Environment: Tropical, palm, fruit and nut trees, sandy beaches
  • Economy: Fishing, Glassblowing, Farming, Tourism
  • History:
    • Once populated by an ancient people (before Godwar), some ruins
      • Mysterious ancient humans with bloodthirsty mayan/aztec like civilization
      • ancient pyramid deep in interior of island
    • Founded by 4 families nearly 100 years ago from more populated islands (Devereux, Kawano, Hemsworth and Teleaf)
    • Is far enough away that it has avoided being directly involved in the various wars to the west
    • Exampleton is fiercely independent and is under the influence of any of the larger southern island neighbors
    • People from the southern islands from all walks of life find their way to Faraway

Overview

  • frontier town where people aren’t asked too many questions about their past if they behave
  • relatively peaceful, attacks by monsters from time to time keep militia busy
  • no real organized crime or pirates, but some gang activity on waterfront
  • buildings made out of: old boats wood and parts, palm fronds and trees, traditional tudor constructions, some stone, tents on outskirts
  • main roads in town are stone paved, otherwise wash out from rainy season and storms
  • protected from worst storms being so far from eye
  • lots of trading blackmarket good for legit goods
  • popular local fruit called Dragon Pear
    • eaten, juice, wine, leaves for tea
    • rusty color

Locations

  • Waterfront
    • wharf master Malcer Lackman
    • rougher place to be alone after dark
    • DOCK 1: The Dirty Wench
    • DOCK 3: Sea Wolf
  • Town Hall
    • Mayor’s office
    • not too busy a place, but there is a line-up of people waiting for permits, pay taxes
    • large, two-story building
    • ground floor consists of the large town meeting hall
    • top floor is made up of storage rooms and offices
  • Garrison
    • acts as HQ for militia and deputies
    • Belor Hemsworth is Sheriff
    • Deputy Murgeddin
  • Market Square
    • open air market full of stands and carts selling produce, jewelry, clothing, etc
    • 6 days a week near waterfront
  • Armory, Torunn’s
    • run by old hill dwarf Amber Torunn (F)
    • all weapons available for sale, all martial weapons take 1 day, 50% upfront
  • Exampleton Sundries
    • Run by Finnan Tealeaf
    • Will buy blackmarket goods
    • Have all goods in the PHB in good supply, no shortages
    • limited to simple weapons
  • Sandlot Provisioners
    • Run by Dunnans, friendly halfling couple with children
    • Food store
    • business is successful and they are well liked by their customers
  • Namori’s Imports
    • Run my Zook Nackle, taken over from a Tiefling named Namori who retired 20 years ago
    • Finest of all retail establishments
    • deals in gemstones, jewelry, art and magic and mechanical trinkets
    • Will not ask questions about where something came from
    • Will not buy stolen goods
  • Magic Store
    • Run by Savah who is well connected with smugglers in southern islands
    • where you go to get components, robes, rituals
    • low level magic items
    • specializes in providing magic trinkets and tools, though the shop’s inventory changes regularly and many articles found within the location’s walls are often not for sale.
  • Exampleton Inn
    • a fine new building constructed of hardwood and stone
    • favored place to stay for wealthy merchants and traders from off island
  • Rusty Dragon
    • Tavern and Inn – popular with adventurers and travellers
    • Named for the rusted dragon head sculpture over its door and the color of the popular local fruit
    • Best tavern in Exampleton
    • specialty is fried dragonpear spears
    • NPCs found here
      • Deputy Murgeddin (Dwarf)
      • Teldorthan (Dwarf)

NPCs

  • Mayor Kendra Devereux (Half-Elf Noble, LG), female, age 40
    • friendly and approachable
    • in charge of paying adventurers for completing quests
    • likes to dress in the latest fashions from big port cities of the southern islands
    • moved to Exampleton over a decade ago, has been mayor for over a year
    • VOICE: speaks with an affected accent, think Star Wars Princess Leia
    • NOTES:
      • first met by party at Rusty Dragon
  • Sheriff Belor Hemsworth (Human Noble, LG)
    • retired Paladin, returned to Exampleton after leaving years ago
    • Brother of Councillor Tana Hemsworth
    • runs militia and manages a group of deputies
    • VOICE: no nonsense, likes to tell old war stories if given a chance
      • example – we were on campaign on a small island during the Barbarian wars…
  • Osric (Gnome (Rock) Mercant N )
    • Mapmaster
    • Store is called Osric’s Maps
  • Zook Nackle (Gnome (Rock) Merchant N)
    • Smiles and is really nice
    • Big rounded brim hat
    • Mustache, Eyepatch (to make him look the part of a adventurer)
    • Does not like to Barter, would prefer to talk about adventures or his inventions
    • VOICE: sinister old man voice
  • Umbero Dunnan (Human Male Merchant)
    • late 30s, young children
    • Turami descent
  • Atala Basha-Dunnan (Human Female Merchant)
    • late 30s, young children
    • dusty brown skin
  • Finnan Tealeaf (Halfling (Stout) Noble NG)
    • Male, Middle aged halfling
    • Big belly and big laugh. Fattest halfling you have ever scene
    • Likes to barter
    • VOICE: booming in higher range
  • Savah (Halfling F (Lightfoot) Merchant N)
    • Middle aged halfling
    • VOICE: small and high range, mysterious, talks in riddles OR yes and no
  • Amber Torunn (Dwarf (Hill) Merchant LG)
    • old hill dwarf
    • Likes to barter
    • really knows her weapons
    • VOICE: scottish/dwarven standard
  • Ilosorai Gandethus (Elf (High) Wizard, NG)
    • Level 10 wizard
    • runs a small wizard school and is a town councillor
    • buy potions ask advice
    • VOICE: old man raspy
      • Apprentice 1
    • Apprentice 2
  • Brannen Goodman
    • Head Cleric of Tero in Exampleton at Cathedral
  • Eccel (Human Male)
    • town drunk
    • former mayor
  • Malcer Lackman (Human Commoner, NE)
    • Wharfmaster
    • runs a small gang skimming
    • under investigation by Sheriff
  • Tana Hemsworth (Human Noble, LN)
    • middle aged female
    • wealthy and shows it, left family wealth by older brother who ran off as a youth
    • sister of Sheriff Belor Hemsworth
    • VOICE: fancy

Each week I’ll add another part to this series. Here is a list of the published and upcoming parts.

The image is of Fallcrest from the D&D 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.

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Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of Tribality.com. He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.