A Whole New Civilization Over the Valley
|Tull from "The Gunslinger" by Stephen King;|
Art by Michael Whelan
I'm a big fan of works like A Song of Ice and Fire which deals with large nation-states, battles for the throne, long distance travel, worldwide threats and organizations. That's pretty far in the opposite direction.
I got to thinking what are some examples of works that focus on a smaller world. Worlds where when you go into a new village it feels different, with a whole new set of traditions. It's been a while since I read Jack Vance's Dying Earth series but that is one inspiration that came to mind quickly. It's also something you see in his science fiction - the novel/collection Ports of Call is a great example of of this, where every place the characters visit is greatly different from the last one.
A more modern example that came to mind was Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Though it is in many ways an epic fantasy with multiple worlds, the main setting is a world that has "moved on". Time is funny, the great civilizations have fallen. However, people live on. Throughout the protagonist Roland's journeys, we see a variety of settlements, all distinct from one another. From memory, I can think of several:
- Gilead - Seen only in flashbacks, once a shining beacon of civilization, now just ruins.
- Tull - In The Gunslinger, a stereotypical "Old West" town, with a honkytonk bar and a revivalist preacher.
- Great Western Woods - seen in The Waste Lands. We don't see any civilization here but we do see remnants of one, a rather primitive one.
- River Crossing - Also in The Waste Lands, inhabited solely by old men and women who give the heroes a well needed rest and provide them with some idea as to where they are headed and what transpired here.
- Lud - A great ruined city in The Waste Lands, it is nearly abandoned, with rival tribes eking out a living and making sacrifices to a PA system which occasionally plays ZZ Top.
- Hambry - Capital of Mejis, the main location for the flashbacks in Wizard and Glass. Roland and his companions are sent here, primarily for their own safety, only to uncover a plot against Gilead. Mejis has the feeling of a southwestern American or northern Mexican town, with its large cattle ranches. It is also home to numerous ruins of the world before (the Citgo) and a creature/location where reality breaks down (the Thinny).
- Calla Bryn Sturgis - The main location of Wolves of the Calla, a friendly settlement with the unusual trait that nearly all births are twins. Like other settlements, it has remnants of the world before, including a robot that provides occasionally useful information.
Each of these is a distinct setting. If one were running a game set in this world, most of them would be able to support a fairly lengthy campaign. As I've gained in experience in the DM-ing front, I've finally begun learning one doesn't need to create everything. It's a tough habit to break, as world-building is a fun activity. However, overdoing it runs the risk of creating things which never get used and worse, needlessly constrain yourself in the future.