Mapping the points of light

April 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged ,

Assuming it survived various changes before being released, etc, the “points of light” setting conceit is probably one of the coolest things about 4e in my opinion, mainly because for once the “implied setting” of D&D is actually really awesome.

The common folk of the world look upon the wild lands with dread. Few people are widely traveled—even the most ambitious merchant is careful to stick to better-known roads. The lands between towns or homesteads are wide and empty. It might be safe enough within a day’s ride of a city or an hour’s walk of a village, but go beyond that and you are taking your life into your hands. People are scared of what might be waiting in the old forest or beyond the barren hills at the far end of the valley, because whatever is out there is most likely hungry and hostile. Striking off into untraveled lands is something only heroes and adventurers do. Another implication of this basic conceit of the world is that there is very little in the way of authority to deal with raiders and marauders, outbreaks of demon worship, rampaging monsters, deadly hauntings, or similar local problems. Settlements afflicted by troubles can only hope for a band of heroes to arrive and set things right. If there is a kingdom beyond the town’s walls, it’s still largely covered by unexplored forest and desolate hills where evil folk gather. The king’s soldiers might do a passable job of keeping the lands within a few miles of his castle free of monsters and bandits, but most of the realm’s outlying towns and villages are on their own.

I would consider toning this down just a little bit. The idea that local authorities are basically helpless makes the whole notion of civilization somewhat less plausible. It’s either that or you have to make adventurers more common, which also goes against the flavor of the default setting. Instead, I’d make the roads a little bit safer as long as you have some kind of escort. That way you can still have merchant caravans and trade and whatnot without them constantly getting owned. Stick to the roads and you are safe. Wander off, and you’re inviting trouble.

But I love what this implies with regard to maps. One way or another, they will probably be inaccurate or have a lot of gaps, and in general be a much more important plot device if you so wish.

“Recent” maps will tell you where cities, forts, towns and roads are, but they might very well be wrong due to recent Plot Events or what have you. More to the point, there’ll be huge swaths of the map that are blank. Why? Well, see, going there would involve actually going there. In this case, being there involves being there with the other things that are there, such as horrible monsters who murder people.

Old maps are another story. These maps date back to the days when there were empires and whatnot. Most of the time they won’t be useful for figuring out where the nearest town is. What they will be useful for is looking for interesting places to go, like ancient cities or strongholds, and possibly providing a more accurate picture of the geography of the area. Maybe there are, for instance, some abandoned roads. Or maybe old battlefields are marked on the map. You get the idea.

In between, you have adventurers’ maps. Oh yes. You hear word of legendary heroes whose maps describe all kinds of interesting places and are probably fairly informative in terms of what they cover. These maps can either make you very rich, or lead you to an extremely horrible death because it turns out that the people that wrote this map were way more badass than you are.

The ability to give unreliable information in this way can make the game a lot more interesting to me, from a DM or player perspective. When the text supports that by default, it’s even better. A largely uncivilized world is a world ready for the PCs to make their mark.

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