Wraxia, like so many of my hobby endeavours, began as a short story – one that I have since lost to a dead hard drive. Thankfully I still recall the gist of it because it is tied to the very foundations of my setting. In the story a pair of travellers huddle around a campfire for warmth as a cold wind chills them to the bone and threatens to engulf them in darkness. One of them is a young man barely old enough to leave his village and the other is an old warrior with flesh marked by strange runes that hurt the eye to behold. They take what rest they can; unable to progress any farther in these conditions but unwilling to turn back.
A bestial cry causes the eldest of the pair to draw his weapon as unfamiliar shapes emerge from the darkness. The runes flicker to life and a torrent of green flame erupts from his left hand. The battle is short and brutal, but the pair drive the creatures back into the night. But there is a cost. There is always a cost. The old warrior collapses as the runes fade and his companion rushes to his side to steady him. One day he too will learn this power from their patron – if they can make it back to their order’s headquarters before the old man dies that is.
So why start with a short story at all? Personally, I find it difficult to just dump exposition into a document even if it is just a draft. I also believe that over-expositing at such an early stage is a sure-fire way to burn yourself out before you’ve even got to the interesting parts of building a world. Why should I worry about the population of every city or their locations before I’ve even decided on the tone of the adventure?
I follow the Legend of Zelda method of world-building. I pick a location – a bustling city, a pitch-black cavern, a lonely road, and I expand outwards from there. For Wraxia that location was contained entirely within the perimeter of a campfire on a cold winter’s night. Even a starting point as compact as this can lead to numerous questions that aid in world-building. Why were this unlucky pair travelling in such inhospitable conditions? Why are the creatures drawn to them? How did the old man come to be marked by the runes?
With these questions at the forefront of my mind the wheels began to turn and the setting that would become Wraxia began to take form in the darkness that lay just beyond the campfire’s edge.