View Full Version : Designing Scenery

2011-10-23, 05:34 AM
How do you all go about making scenery and mythic locations? Do you design interesting places in advance and hope to use them or do you improve them whenever the party teleports/plane shifts to a remote nowhere and hope it holds up to close scrutiny?

What interesting locations and events have you used?

I am currently planning an epic level game and suggestions for places from myth and brief descriptions will help me alot. Any setting, any story, any myth. What would you use to temp the imaginations of a bunch of demigod power players?

2011-10-23, 06:15 AM
Well my next game is going to be set in a city where the Dukes Castle is a massive dirrigible structure built around the top of the mountain on who's slopes the city sits. I guess that counts as interesting scenary.
things like that I know will come up, because by looking up they will be able to see it.
the great halls of the dwarven kings in the next kingdom over may not appear "on screen" but may well get described at some point, so that in the event they do go there they will know what to expect.

sometimes if I know there is a pivotal scene that I want in the game I will paint it, and show the picture at the appropriate time. for example an establishing shot of an important city, or a picture of a certain object.
I went a bit meta with this in my last game. I knew that I wanted to show them a picture of a massive sea serpent destroying a ship, but as that was the main antagonist for the game and there was no way they could realistically survive said encounter at this point I decided that I wouldn't be their ship.
so I had an NPC show them a painting of the thing they were going to be facing. my picture of the Leviathan destroying a ship. maybe later in the game when they face it for real I'll show them the picture again, but this time they will be in it.

2011-10-23, 10:13 AM
I think the important thing is to let go of preconceptions. Sometimes less is more, just divorce it from your notion of 'reality' or 'possibility'.

As a potential inspiration, consider taking the ordinary and either applying a theme to it or making it unreal somehow:

A lake in a realm close to the positive energy plane, where the water is white. Not like milk, but a luminescent alabaster. The leaves of flowers and trees near it glow.

An orchard with a river cutting through it... only it's all aflame. The orchard forever burns, never being consumed, and the river is like burning oil.

Legends tell of the Elder Titan's Grave. A mountain shaped like the torso, head and arm of a (colossal+) figure, reaching for the heavens with one upraised hand, as though imploring the gods. The dwarves would tell you different - that their ancestors carved the work out of a mountain.

Boccob's Lament is, or was, a Library Tower/Temple of Boccob. Something went wrong, however, only the highest ranked of Boccob's temple know what... and they are sworn to silence on the subject. The actual tower is deserted, but many pass through it in the hopes of recovering ancient lore. It seems like an explosion on the upper floors shattered the tower... but it stopped halfway. As one ascends the tower, they find whole sections of the building have broken off from the rest, and hang suspended in midair. The second-to-last floor is little more than debris scattered across the sky... with the top floor and roof frozen in time above it, at a ninety-degree angle.

2011-10-23, 11:09 AM
You want to lay back and think of things beyond what you normally see. Let go of preconceptions. Make everything fantastic, avoid the mundane. Don't just have a 'castle' have a castle made of glass or such.

I think stuff up all the time, and always modify things.

Now epic power players will only be temped by epic level power things, like:

*Blagorra-is a city built on a floating rock directly over a massive portal to the negative material plane. A huge funnel of air, being blasted away from the portal surrounds the city, and the city itself is full of necromantic energy that hurts the living. Plus the city is sinking and has quakes and everyone knows that some day it will simply fall through the portal...

*Water Tavern-A classic of mine. This is a normal looking tavern, except it's full of water not air. Some times it's 'airy water' for everyone, but some times it's not and for 'water breathers only'.

*Gravity Tavern--another classic. Tables and such are on the walls and ceiling, that you can walk on. Plus the 'middle' area is a no gravity dance area.

2011-10-23, 12:13 PM
I have a few go to locations for changing things up.

In a dungeon:
- a room filled with pillars over a seemingly bottomless pit. (The basic idea for this is presented in one of the grimjaws but I don't even use traps all the time as with all the pillars as "safe" it changes up the flow of combat)
- a collapsed area followed by an area where whatever caused the collapse has turned the next area of dungeon. so I just take a page of dungeon from my random pile and play like it is tilted 70-160 degrees from normal orientation, so they are having to climb the sidewalls to get to doors and change rooms
-in general putting some secondary goal in a collapsed area so the party has to figure out how to get to it.

-Treetop fight, wherein most of the enemies are up in the trees and there are some obvious ways to get up (through the process of taking the party gets harried with arrows and stuff) make the two different heights of the fight meaningful and it breaks up the run up to this guy and hit him thing.
-hills, just putting hills in changes how the fight progresses. lines of sight etc... are all things that can add a lot of dimension to a fight and don't need to be some special setting.

I was going tot type more but my dog is getting pissed at me.

edit: I forget not to curse sometimes when I change gears back to here.

2011-10-23, 03:21 PM
Unusual is good, adding a touch of the bizarre to the otherwise normal or the subversion of expectations. Here are a few of the ideas I had, copied from my other thread, feel free to pick them apart.

The world tree itself: extends untold miles into an endless star studded sky, massive birds can bee seen to flit between its infinite branches. The sun here never rises in this place between the worlds. The roots descent into grey clouds thick enough to walk on and across the endless cloudscape they occasionaly break surface, extended past the horizon.

Eden: Long since abandoned and overgrown, long grasses billow beneath and colored by perpetual twilight skies colored by the aurora. There is no sign of civilization or hints that ever there was, the unchecked growth, faded and dying. On the horizon can be seen two twisted trees, leafless, they burn with golden flames but are not consumed. By the light you can see branches studded with unknown fruits.

The interface of night and day: More and event that an location, but is that as well, this is the personification of sunrise and sunset as seen from the overworld. The plain is infinite, dunes of sand that go forever. A man with golden brown skin in ornate golden garb dances, spinning torches as he walks forward, behind him are billions of fireflies, lighting a place devoid of celestial bodies, Before him retreat billions of chittering black beetles, a writhing carpet on the ground. In his wake there is golden light. Twelve hours from now he will be chased by a woman with ebony skin in the blackest of silks, her beetles devouring the fireflies and darkness falling. In the world below, the sun rises and sets as normal.

Izanami's Land of the Dead: A desert eternal, the sun is a searing red orb far too large in the sky, the heat scorches the white sands, sands of the bones of the dead, ground down eternally by the howling wind through the desolate wastes. Time and again the wind uncovers rank upon rank of bodies in various states of decay and motion. They are the dead, interred beneath the sands. The traveler here cannot stop moving or he too will be swallowed by the hungry earth. Every now and then you might spot a caretaker, the Shinigami, walking the sands, looking for any anomalies in the order of dissolution. Plodding endlessly through the wastes on the back of a massive skeleton turtle is Izanami's citadel and the heart of her private hell.

2011-10-23, 10:55 PM
In my opinion, the easiest way to add a touch of the bizarre to something otherwise normal is to make it out of an unusual material.
Glass or crystal is always a good choice.

Or even better, stained glass.

2011-10-24, 07:21 PM
One of the most Infamous Cities in my Campaign:


*First off only people born inside of the city walls are Citizens and have any rights at all. Anyone else, is a Trespasser and have no rights, standings or protection in the city. A Citizen can freely kill any 'Passer at any time, or cheat them out of a deal or so forth.

*The city guards are judge, jury and executioners for all 'Passers. Citizens get trials, of course. And should a case of Cit vs Pass come up, they most likely just kill the 'Passers.

*The city is open to all life forms. Any living creature is welcome in the city.

*It is illegal to make change in the city.

*The alleyways of the city are not 'in' the city limits, so you can do anything there.

*The city has ever changing 'monster guards', that can teleport in quick at the first sign of trouble and simply kill everything in the area to make things 'never happen'. (so if the PC's rob a bank, in come the demons to kill everyone around and destroy the bank and then that bank never existed(and was never destroyed)).

*There is a steep Exit Tax, generally more then whatever a person can pay to leave the city.

2011-10-25, 01:55 AM
That last one definitely sounds memorable in the "holy crap let's never get within 100 miles of its borders" kind of way. What was the player reaction?

2011-10-25, 06:49 AM
Occasionally I'll go to one of the random location name generators on the web and let inspiration strike.

And since this seems to be shaping up into a rather nice trove of ideas, here's a small contribution.
- the city of Ravine is built on the edge of the Rift, a bottomless chasm said to have been cut into the earth when Hextor attempted to smite, and missed, Corellon Larethian.
- the Cadwen Sea is a maritime area near the southern coast where treacherous tides combine with shallow waters and reefs to create a tremendously dangerous place to navigate. Countless ships were shipwrecked there and sank, resting on the sands below. Their masts often protrude above the surface, hence the area being better known as the Forest-at-Sea.