More for RPG Blog Carnival, or at least inspired by it. This is my brain on poetic when mixing having just finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms with knowing location design is on the topic list in the very near future.
The root of a world is “What if”.
No, wait, that’s not quite right. The root of a world is “what would make….”
Or perhaps it’s both. A question. A few elements. They begin to gravitate towards each other. To blossom outward, to let their edges mingle. To weave together. A magic ties itself into a government. Another separates two countries, or reverses a river and thereby changes trade, or….
These locations? In microcosm, they are the world, for they are expression sof what makes the world. What delights its creators (both the IC ones, if applicable, and the OOC ones). What forces have changed it. What it was meant to have been.
They grow from worlds: what else would a place that corkscrews through a thousand planes have but a market in which they all meet, the odd, the wise and the dangerous, bright colors and mingled sounds, little bent things carrying the souls of their greaters and a network of shadowed tunnels whose occupants throw chips into bowls labeled with things like “Love” and “Destiny” and “Luck”, and who later curse their fortunes in reed-thin voices or draw in their winnings with spindly arms?
They might come from characters, springing up around them to house and to complement them. For the blindfolded diplomat, prisoner by choice, a gilded cage in what might as well be a diplomatic zoo walled around by mist. For the keeper of the memories of lost and melancholy places, a hilltop which once boasted the greatest of social functions before a fight within turned its proud villas to ruins, ones that throw back the starlight—for it must be starlight, by the light of the sun or even the moon it looks so tawdry—and whose shadows only accentuate what was once there.
Events may shape them, turning the place-that-was (though the audience might never see it, might only guess at what it might have been) into the place-that-is. The city beneath the mountain, still and silent, populated by bloodless corpses, save for the child whose music box sings with the prayers of the fallen and the shuffling, weeping god who leaves trails of black ash and shouts that no, there are no gods. The single tree, burned off at the top, in whose branches echo the most beautiful birdsong known to the world and whose innermost foliage is not, like its outside, stubs of pine green but rather leaves like golden feathers that burn with the sunset. The patched-up house where every putty-filled crack, every fresh carpet, is the determination and defiance of the family that adopts the white elephant as its own.
Some we plan as presents for those who follow us through the Fourth Wall, or even as gifts for ourselves. I often design my locations to elicit a short intake of breath, a stunned 360-degree silence, a longing to make contact with the surroundings. I have known people who have had a flair for outsizing their structures, the better to accommodate the larger than life things going on within them, and others who will make everything wild, even slashing through the cities with bright flowers that streak through the wood and bricks like graffiti on a wall.
And there they are, representing the world, a thousand little points of synecdoche. Is it not beautiful?