Yesterday, one of Diego's classmates (Maceo) spent the afternoon with us and joined our AD&D campaign. Using a half-elf assassin ("I love assassins!") we introduced him to our version of Hommlet: the village of Twisp.
"Twisp? That's a crazy name!" It's actually a real place in the Methow Valley, just a few miles south of Winthrop. "Oh! I've been to Winthrop!" So have we...it was our first vacation spot after the pandemic started. Small population, lots of hiking, beautiful surroundings. Of course, in my campaign Winthrop takes the place of Nulb; the "Temple of Elemental Evil" (such as it is) would be located just beyond, to the north.
|The Village of Twisp|
[all apologies to the good folks of Winthrop. Sure, there were a lot of pro-Trump signs and banners the last time we were in the town, but I'd hardly call them "mean," "slovenly," or "evil." Fact is, I found the folks of Winthrop to be very friendly, and a place we wouldn't mind vacationing again. Very relaxing for JB the Tourist...and I don't even fish]
Using the real world..
[oh, wait...you want to know how did the adventure go? Pretty good. They hit up the moathouse again and managed to slay the giant snake with only Diego's new dwarf character getting downed (and he survived). Oh, what happened to Diego's elven thief? He was slain in our last outing by a wandering ogre. These things happen. Sofia's cleric is halfway to 2nd level]
Using the real world as a campaign setting is a great boon. It makes the world building so immensely easy, especially in this Internet Age of ours...the touch of the Google machine can bring up all sorts of historic, demographic, geographic information instantly (well, near enough). Images and pictures of landscapes and rivers and mountains and forests...with no hemming or hawing or arguing over whether its plausible or makes sense or if "magic" is required to explain it all.
I haven't written much about elves in my campaign...mainly because it hasn't been all that important. My concept of the elven race isn't far removed from where it was in August 2020, when I was still using the OD&D rules and using South America as my "world map." They're still based largely on Moorcock's Melniboneans in temperament, outlook, and culture, but now they're coastal cities are more located in the Olympic Peninsula region, with their main location being (of course) Port Townsend, nicknamed The City of Dreams.
[yeah, see what I did there? I'm such a hack]
However, there's a LOT about the elves that I need to nail down. In my OD&D game, for example, they had the same life expectancy as humans...but when I re-booted the game with AD&D I just rolled with the Rules As Written meaning their lifespan is measured in centuries. This is something that has to be corrected, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
[having 1,500 year old elves screws around with my world in ways that I don't like. It's okay to give them a slightly extended lifespan along with resistance/immunity to aging magic, but for the species to function in my world, it has to have a life expectancy on par with humans]
Besides, it's not like the PC elves that have shown up in-game have lasted more than a few weeks/months, let alone years. SO...low priority. It'll happen eventually.
What IS a higher priority is figuring out the population figures and resources of the region. Found a great, early 20th century mineral report explaining there's plenty of iron to be mined in Washington, but production was halted to "market unfeasibility" (translation: Big Iron couldn't make enough money for the industry to be economically viable compared to other resource harvesting). This is great news for an Iron Age setting that needs lots of swords and armor. Today, I've been trying to track the historic population spikes in Washington State, and was tremendously confused with 1910 boom (it couldn't just be due to the successful Suffrage movement!) until...duh...I was reminded of the Klondike Gold Rush that occurred at the turn of the (20th) century.
But MY world didn't have a gold rush to the Yukon...so that boom wouldn't have happened. Neither did it have an "industrial revolution" or the building of railroads. The region is still much the same, but withOUT all that Manifest Destiny hullabaloo and U.S. expansion...heck, the indigenous peoples of the region aren't even humans (and some of them live underground). It's alternate history that I'm creating with my fantasy world, one that features a lot of strangeness and wilderness...but with a background canvass that features a lot of detail I don't have to worry about creating.
How tremendously freeing that is! Instead of worrying about where to put rivers and towns and mountains and cities and political boundaries and forests...or even worrying about figuring out "fantasy names" for these things...I can simply use and re-purpose what is already present. I can build my "Red Empire" over the (so-called) Inland Empire. I can have Renton dominated by the "Wizards of the Coast" (a magical conclave or a batch of charlatans...who can say?). I don't need a range of "Misty Mountains" or "Dragon's Teeth" when I already have the Cascades and the Olympics (not to mention the Picket Range, Enchantment Peaks, Icicle Ridge, Black Hills, etc.). I don't need a Mirkwood when I have the Olympic Rainforest and Colville National Forest.
I have a rough timeline of the region's settlement going back more than 10,000 years and that's plenty of time to figure out when and where the dragons landed.
And all this, of course, is just "surface" material. Plenty of room underground if I want to put giant subterranean civilizations...though the access points for those will probably be further north in British Columbia (i.e. "the land of snow and giants"). Should I, someday, need to expand my world, I can always dig deeper (literally), or else develop Oregon and California and Idaho...all three being, currently, different forms of apocalyptic wasteland holding little interest for the NPC population of my world (except maybe northern Oregon, but it's full of Yuan-Ti and such...scary).
As I said...the real world is a great boon. It is recognizable (to me and my players). No one can argue that its geography isn't "sensible" (since it's real). It does the heavy lifting of map making for the most part...all I have to do is write my own little travelogues and "tart it up" with D&Disms.
It's a helluva lot of fun.