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new melyne worldbuilding

the town of New Melyne (part one)

This is a series where we’re going to build a town, bit by bit, for a fantasy adventure RPG.

the basics

I wanted to do a category of blog posts where we do some normal DM planning activity, and I explain some of the decisions and ideas that go into it. This is the start of that series, and we’re starting with the creation of a town called New Melyne (pronounced malign). I love creating locations in RPGs more than anything else, possibly because I like creating maps, possibly because I’m terrible at creating characters. Who’s to say. The image I’ve used for the post is from Richard Benning, and I think it’s awesome.

I’m imagining this town as being the location of a fantasy one-shot, or a series of one-shots, so we’re going to put more detail into this than we would for every town that the players might visit. We need enough content for the players to feel like there’s more to explore, even after a couple of sessions into it. It also means we need a problem for the adventurers to solve. Something for them to uncover. With a name like “Melyne”, I’m thinking that this is a town with two faces – one side which presents itself as an average, respectable settlement with opportunities for those willing to seek them. The other side is the real face of New Melyne, a shadowy place where people are strange and inscrutable. Where everyone has an agenda, everyone has a play for power, and even the dullest scraps of it are jealously hoarded.

I’m getting ahead of myself. In this post, I’m going to talk about why New Melyne exists. When doing worldbuilding, I think it’s always worth asking “why is this here?”. In answering this question, we might discover that there’s no reason for it to exist, and that we need to give it one. Last thing here, the world at large:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe

Carl Sagan, The Lives of the Stars

In this instance, I actually disagree. We’re not trying to recreate The Silmarillion here, we’re trying to create a town. We might have a detail in the town that requires elaboration about the outside world, but it’s often easier to start from a single place and then build the world around that, instead of attempting the reverse. New Melyne can be a microcosm of the world around it.

why does New Melyne exist

If there’s a settlement somewhere, there’s normally a very good reason it’s there and not somewhere else. That reason could be a resource (the sea/a river for fishing and trade), it could be religious (set at the site of some religious event or tradition), it could be military (set in a location to allow for defence/mobilisation) – in New Melyne’s case, it’s going to be next to iron. There’s something inherently tone-setting about a town being next to a mine; if I was going to go full literary analysis on it, I’d give a few reasons.

  1. “Confrontational” relationship with nature. We take what we want with violent tools like picks and drills, as though we’re fighting against the land for control of those resources.
  2. Darkness and depth. The idea that the town might be a small piece compared to a vast network of shadowy tunnels that lie just below the surface.
  3. Hardiness and grit. Mining is traditionally very dangerous, attracting those who are either brave enough, or have no choice.
  4. Mine entrances as portals to the unknown. Normally we build walls and defences, but the mine entrance is a yawning gateway to whatever lurks beneath.

We’ve immediately said a few things about the world in general – that iron is a valuable resource worth extracting, that people are capable of creating settlements for purposes like iron (over reasons like basic needs, water, food), and that the iron is probably going somewhere (as you don’t need a big mine to support the iron needs of a single small town). Despite the iron needing to go somewhere, I want New Melyne to feel like a frontier town – I don’t want it to be some boring subsidiary of a big, cumbersome nation-state. I want it to be independent, with no greater authority than itself. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we’ll cover the authority/government piece in a post on its own.

There’s three more immediate requirements that come from New Melyne being next to iron. Firstly, that the terrain around New Melyne is quite rugged, with hills and valleys (because it’s far easier to mine into hills and valleys, rather than mining straight down). Secondly, that New Melyne is relatively far away from other settlements (otherwise it wouldn’t be a town, it’d just be a mine). Thirdly, that despite the rugged terrain, New Melyne must be reachable by road (otherwise it’d be horribly slow to transport any iron from it, and it wouldn’t be used).

This is all very useful information for our RPG! We have a route for our adventuring party to arrive in the town (the road and trade), and we have a reason why they wouldn’t immediately leave (the remoteness). Possibly most importantly for an adventuring RPG, we have a source of danger and mystery in the terrain and the mine1.

food for thought

People don’t eat rock. New Melyne might be where it is for the iron, but it must also have access to food and water. You never want to have that awkward moment where a player asks just how exactly your settlement survives, despite the fact they’ve yet to see a single source of nourishment. In line with the theming that the mine brings, I think New Melyne is going to primarily survive off hunting. It ticks all the boxes of hardiness and grit, it enforces the dangers of the nature around the town (as they don’t keep livestock), and it gives us a reason for weapons to be more commonplace (useful later…). I think access to water is going to be via a nearby stream, as that gives us a reason why more regular folk (not hunters) venture outside the town’s walls (meaning that they built the town closer to the iron source than they did the water, showing you the priorities of the town founders!).

The fact that the primary food source is going to be via hunting, also gives us an insight into the sort of clothes and armour people wear, and some jobs/industries that might exist other than pulling rocks out of the ground. It also suggests that the area around New Melyne must be somewhat plentiful with game animals – presumably if the hills were full of seventeen feet wide hyperpredators, they’d live off cave fungus or something equally miserable (or not have gone there at all). In terms of clothes and armour, it’s probably going to be a lot of leather, iron and pelts, with items made from resources sourced via agriculture being rarer (and mostly imported). I’m imagining a street of the town containing tanneries, blacksmiths and smokers – with all the foul smells that those industries bring.

origin story

Now that we have some semblance of a ‘why’, we can start thinking about a ‘how’ for New Melyne. We don’t need to detail this all now, but it’s good to quickly think about how it came to be. Keeping in step with the idea of New Melyne being an independent settlement, I like the idea of the town being some sort of venture by a semi-wealthy individual with limited/no existing ties to the greater world. I also like the idea of the town being around 22 years old, because we don’t have to write an extensive history, and it allows for a generation of working age people who were born in the first few years of the town. The benefit of it being a very young town, is that it makes sense for the surrounding area to remain somewhat of a mystery.

By having the town be a business venture started by an individual very recently, we’ve squashed down the possible hierarchy quite flat. Almost everyone in the town would have a personal connection to the founder, especially seeing as they’re likely to have some business connection. Right now, the town’s growth looks something like: (in order of arrival)

  • The Founder (as of yet unnamed)
  • Employees/associates of the founder (most likely miners/involved in mining)
  • Family of the employees/associates, immediate friends. Hunters, architects, etc. Jobs required for the town’s long term survival.
  • People seeking business opportunities from the newly growing town. Shopkeepers, traders, the wealthy.
  • Children of the first arrivals.

While this could be fine, having such a dense web of relationships will make things challenging. So for this reason, I think the founder of New Melyne disappeared five years ago. We’ll talk about the reasons why that happened in a later post, but it means we are going to need some small government structure when we come to that. In terms of the number of people living in the town, I’m hovering from anywhere between a five hundred to a thousand people. This definitely puts on the small scale for a town, but we can start to play with this number later if the number of jobs starts looking weird.

what we have so far

  • New Melyne is a very young mining town, built next to a source of iron to mine and trade with the wider world.
  • It’s set in an area of rugged landscape that has largely been unexplored.
  • It primarily survives on hunting as a source of food and clothing, but does trade for other goods outside of that.
  • It’s independent from the world around it – a law unto itself, for now!
  • It’s an industrial town, due to having dirty industries like tanneries, blacksmiths, and charcoal burners.
  • It started out as a commercial venture, but has evolved past that with the disappearance of the owner five years ago.
  • The current “government” must be quite young and inexperienced, as that disappearance was unlikely to have been expected.
  • There’s something very, very wrong with New Melyne.

Come back next time when we’re going to talk specifically about what sort of jobs and industries exist in New Melyne, and the beginnings of a map.

Footnotes

  1. I find it’s pretty common to forget to introduce an easy source of danger. If you don’t have this, then the source of danger becomes the settlement, and most of the foes the players will face will be humanoids. While this might be fine for the session you’re running, if you were looking to add more variety, it might not be what you want.

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