Points of Light
Have you ever heard of the Points of Light ‘setting’ that was described in the D&D 4th edition core rulebooks? The gist of it is that the world is largely wild and unexplored, with little ‘points of light’, or civilization, spread out amongst it all.
Many people really like this idea; it allows them to fill the world with a LOT of danger. But I have a really big beef with it; I don’t think it’d work. There are times and places in the history of this world that worked a bit like that, but not to quite that extent. Usually, people clump together more than that, or they have to clear out a bunch of the wilderness to build farms to feed the people of the area.
But there’s something else in history that’s different from the points of light idea in D&D: a lack of monsters. Sure, we have our share of scary wild animals, but they’re often just as scared of us as we are of them, and they only attack when provoked. But fantasy settings are filled with creatures that attack unprovoked, such as orcs, goblins, and the ilk. The actual monsters, besides the humanoids, are bad too.
People wouldn’t survive very long if they only had small, isolated ‘points of light’. The violent monsters would barely let them survive long enough to build a homestead, let alone a village.
Where the Wild Things Are
The solution is to have a place that most of the beasties have been pushed back to by civilization. If you look at some of the older campaign settings for D&D, the main maps didn’t cover the entire continents. There was often a desert or dense forest or jungle at the edge of the map that showed the edge of civilization, the beginning of the realms of some of the most dangerous monsters.
It kind of becomes the opposite of Points of Light, being more like Points of Darkness. But I very much like this idea better. But these ‘dark points’ don’t need to be all that small. In fact, they should be large, in order to support its inner ecosystem, but civilization should be big enough to keep it back most of the time.
Monsters in Civilization
Don’t forget, also, that monsters don’t have to live in the wild. There are plenty that sneak into the shadows of civilization. There are also the people who are monstrous enough in intentions to keep your players busy. This leaves a wider variety of options available compared to how Points of Darkness would otherwise be perceived.
Questions to Answer
Does your monster location have a large variety of creatures within? If so, you’ll probably want to make it even larger than the typical one. Otherwise, creatures could probably survive in a smaller area.
Are the creatures within particularly aggressive? You might need to set up extra fortifications and a militaristic civilization to hold them back. (similar to the Shienar in the Wheel of Time series)
Is the monster location surrounded by civilization? Or does it fill a choke point that leads to another large part of the continent?
Is your monster location an entirely new continent? (like Xen’drik in the Eberron setting)
What kind of terrain do these monsters inhabit? Underwater? Underground? Desert? There are all sorts of options here, too.
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