Look at a common complaint with regards to world building. The world is too big; none of us have time to build the multiplicity of details that a world demands; we can't make all of the towns on the map to the right, we can barely hope to make just one of them in an orderly, useful way.
If, in our imaginations, the goal is to scratch out an accurate map for each, then yes, it's impossible. If we think we're going to detail every resident, and every job and purpose they serve, it's true, we might as well quit.
But if our goal is to say of the village of Ostrich, the residents respect quiet, book-learned people, and have a book fair once a month, and that the chief scholar in the village has unexpected knowledge of rare tomes, then we have already made the whole village for the purpose of our game ~ provided we know what that knowledge is, what books may be purchased at the fair and what means these books and knowledge has together of inspiring the players to pursue a particular unlocked adventure, which may never have been known if the players had not chosen to search the village of Ostrich.
The map itself does not matter. The many residents of Ostrich do not matter. What matters is what the village directly offers to the players, and what the players may need do to possess that offering. Surely, if we think in building blocks ~ concrete, incremental pieces, and not esoteric impossible to define grand concepts ~ we can build as large a world as we have the patience for. It is easier to make a Millenium Falcon out of Lego than it is out of wood. Compare for yourself:
True enough, we have to invent the blocks first; we don't have a thoughtful, supportive company that knows how to make the blocks for us, telling us how to put together the blocks to make things we like. We only have the sandbox of game design.
My plan is to start working on building blocks and posting them, over time. I expect to start with an overview for my own use and then to build this overview into a long series of wiki-posts. The blocks will fit into the overarching development scheme that I was building up for and had to shelve when the wiki had to be moved. At present, I can only offer a taste.
Although I've defined an urban block at 3.76 acres, rural blocks would be dealt with as larger hexes, 305 acres apiece, or 2,737 acres, with commensurately longer search times. Wilderness blocks might be bigger than that.
Let's start with some wilderness blocks:
- Deadlands: non-arable land that is insufficient for supporting higher life forms, due to a lack of water (deserts), useful soil, plant life (arctic snow fields) or because the area was so overgrown and infested (deep jungles) that most natural creatures are unable to dwell there. The hex would be inhabited by non-intelligent vermin, mostly insects, arachnids, reptiles, amphibians and animated plants, perpetually feeding off one another. 1 in 20 deadlands might be a beastland. 1 in 400 deadlands might be an eradicator land.
- Beastlands: similar in nature to deadlands, but spawning wandering destroyers, such as cockatrices, gorgons, shambling mounds and the like, creatures able to survive for long periods in deadlands but prone to wander out in search of more interesting food or to slake their malevolence.
- Eradicator Lands: blasted deadlands, where the natural verminous population has been exterminated by a despotic, deeply malevolent entity, such as a lich, beholder, evil dragon or being of like power.
- Fishing Ground: literally an area of sea or lake, where fish congregate in abundance due to natural conditions. Boatmen from nearby villages strike out for such hexes in order to improve their catch. In terms of my reference/trade system, such places would exist in any province that possessed a fish or natural sea product (seaweed, slugs, sea ivory, turtles, etc.). Most likely it would be far enough out that good boats were needed. Technically the sea hex would be wilderness, because no one would live there; but encountering other fisher folk would be common.
- Grazing Land: arable lands lacking civilized infrastructure, where common pasturelands provide reasonable sustenance for herbivorous wanderers (mostly mammals), but where the hunting is too inconsistent to encourage human settlement. These areas tend to exist in large forests, where civilization has not penetrated due to lack of interest, poor climate or simply distance. 1 in 6 grazing lands will support a barbaric village. (see Hunting Lands, below)
- Barbaric Village: odd humanoid and non-humanoid monster races who have constructed obscure, non-political communities in distant places unpatrolled by civilized culture. These villages might be fairly developed, with agriculture or even metalworking and scholarship, depending on the intelligence of the builder, or they may be quite backward. Some may be friendly; most will not.
Some rural blocks:
- Hunting Lands: naturally occurring rich pasture lands, offering provender to large herds, particularly in areas where there is some, but little civilized presence. The area should be counted as a reference for game meat, animal skins, or any animal product (horn, bone, ostrich feathers, tortoise shell, etc.). Each such hex should represent one reference, that being the primary trade item for residents in that area (they all eat the meat, but preserve the bone, or the hides, or whatever, depending upon their tribal skill).
- Hunting Camps: a more highly developed rural outpost, in which professional hunters, rather than tribal units, organize hunting parties that may range throughout the block or into adjacent wilderness lands, to acquire the most food each season. Would-be rangers often train in hunting camps; use of the bow is a prerequisite for training as well.
- Stock Ponds: small naturally isolated ponds, often all or partially spring-fed, which have been stocked with fish and managed carefully in order to produce large yields. Always for private use, but poaching is common as the stock pond doubles the chance for fishing.
And finally, some urban blocks:
- Hut Village: primitive dwellings forming a settlement, semi-permanent in structure, clustered in an area that provides better than subsistence living. Often within Hunting Lands or with close access to same. Often, huts will be interspersed with nomadic tents; much of the population at any one time will be transitory, remaining for a few weeks or a season before moving on. Known not to offer services, but willing to barter with friendly outsiders, exchanging raw materials and food for metal objects and cloth.
- Fishing Huts: similar to a hut village, but with lacking a nomadic element due to its location upon the water and the presence of a constant, reliable food supply. Buildings more permanent in design. Necessarily adjacent to a careenage in most cases.
- Careenage: already discussed at length. Provides minor repairs for incoming boats, no presence of rigging or sailcloth. Always associated with a coastal settlement.
- Boat Yard: replaces careenage; almost always occurring in a natural harbour; otherwise, upon consistently calm shorelines, protected by reefs. Major repairs possible to hulls, rigging and sailcloth available; can be contracted for designing boats.
- Sacred Place: includes sacred groves, caves, isles, vales, mounds and other like geographical features that focus natural clerical, druidic or magical energy (wild magic). Such areas are usually surrounded by open land that serves for festivals, contemplation and rest, and are marked by monoliths. Monoliths are rock cuts, cairns, columns, geoglyphs and the like, commemorating events, ideas, persons or divine figures. Most monoliths are similar in design to others of the same culture. 1 in 100 monoliths will be a megalith, an immense, unique structure worthy of a pilgrimage (Stone Henge). Monoliths and megaliths provide culture.
This does not begin to cover all the possible blocks I hope to eventually shape ... and the list does not conform to my description of what each block should provide for the players, as noted in my post, We Know Already ... But it is a start. We always have to start somewhere.