Thursday, March 24, 2011

DM Advice - Creating Ecologies Not Static Environments Pt I

Tenkar over at Tenkar's Tavern  had a wonderful post today. He went on a trip (he can explain in his blog) and while out there came to see how many types of animals live in an urban environment. He went on to suggest why doesn't fantasy settings have goblins and such living underground or the occasional owlbear rummaging through someone's garbage? His thoughts were well expressed and much better laid out than I just did. I encourage you to check out the post linked above and then come back with a fresh mind for what I have to present.

Did you read it? Good. If you did not it will only serve to confuse you as to the meaning of this post but I really want to get into the meat and potatoes of this post so to speak so I will figure you read it.

So you ask, how does one fully realize a realistic ecology and not just a static dungeon? Well for starters you have to consider the basic level of any system - the community. Let's take for example a sewer environment that has become disused because the inhabitants of the large town above have created a new and better sewer. To compare this fictional sewer we'll use the average every-day backyard setting of someone in the Southeastern United States. We will look at the physical environment including the the basic forms of life, the uses for the environment, the types of people that use the environment and finally the community within the environment or rather how they interact. For today, let's take a look at what makes up the physical environment and how we can use the characteristics of the physical environment to shape the community.

The Physical Environment

The Sewer
The sewer is made up of bricks and the refuse travels in two to three foot canals that run in underground lines of about five feet or so in height and about six feet in width. Since it is underground there are no patterns of weather changes and since it has become disused there is a high probability of privacy. The water levels could become a problem in significant rainy seasons or if the location of the town is one that is near a river or sea and prone to flooding.

There are potentially multiple entrances to the sewer although some may have become bricked up as the system was phased out. For the purposes of this exercise we'll say that the sewer has three entrances one in the middle of the city through an old watershed, one at the old sewer works and one that deposits the sewage directly into a nearby lake.

The underground environment typically attracts rodents and insects but the occasional larger animal that enjoys being near to water such as a reptile or amphibian may decide to make its home within the entrances of the sewer such as the watershed or the opening by the lake. The vegetation is typically mushrooms and ferns within the sewers with roots from large trees possibly breaking through in places of the brick work. This makes ideal places for the aforementioned small animals to take refuge and to forage.

The Backyard
The backyard is made up of grass and the occasional tree and has a deck where people can come and be entertained. The backyard is in of itself an outside environment and is prone to the hazards of inclement weather. The deck however contains a covered patio where one could seek refuge and escape inclement weather if necessary.

There is a fence that surrounds the backyard and separates it from the neighbor's yard and nearby road. There are two entrances to the backyard one being a gate in the fence and the other being out the back door of the house through the deck.

The suburban environment typically invites small rodents such as rabbits, armadillos, squirrels or opossums as well as insects, small reptiles like snakes or the occasional neighborhood dog. The vegetation in the backyard is usually some form of grass, St Augustine in my case, with some scattered trees and hedges. This makes ideal places for the aforementioned small animals to take refuge and to forage.

Next week we'll discuss how we take the characteristics of the physical environment and merge them with some uses for the environment.


  1. I'm already looking forward to the next part in the series. Nicely done.

  2. That means a great deal since you inspired this topic.

  3. Me too!

    The setting plays such a massive part in immersion in the game - so any tips on making it more than just a string of dungeons with wooly descriptions in between are gratefully received... thanks for this.

  4. @ Tom and Tenkar - I am a proponent of having a very fluid world. Thank you for reading. It is my hope that people can take some of what I write about in my DM and Player Advice articles and use it in their games to have more fun. That's what it is all about anyway right? Having fun.

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