How I Accidentally Built a Fantasy World

By: Justin A Lauer

In a universe far far away, or rather, in a university basement not more than a brisk jog from my desk, my life was utterly changed when a book was opened a piece of paper with a bunch of words, numbers, and blank lines topped with a logo that read “Pathfinder” was passed to me. I had become a role-player, and not just the “pretending not to stare at the hot guys playing frisbee shirtless outside the school because I am like super damn straight and shit” kind of role-player that I used to be, but the silly-voice using, spell-slinging, number-crunching, king of the Holy Realm of Nerdom kind of role-player. Little did I know that jumping into a random car in my first week as a freshman at the University of Montana and going on a city-wide scavenger hunt, which ended up being a disguised university Christian group recruitment trap, would team me up with a group of nerds who shared my love for the fantasy genre and no plan to ever go to that church again and invite me to join their budding Pathfinder RPG group.

A piece of promotional art that shows a wizard and rogue attacking a blue dragon with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game logo centered at the bottom.

After falling in love with the game, and making some absolutely horrid characters who accidentally set their friends ablaze more often than their enemies, my freshman year came to a close and I had to return to my hometown for the summer. So I said summer, but it ended up being more than three years before I returned to furthering my education. In that time, my love for Pathfinder did not diminish and decided to rally my friends together and start our own group.

So, fun thing about dropping out of school and moving into your parents basement, it is not very lucrative, and purchasing Pathfinder materials: rule-books, game mats, maps, the story modules, and such, is not that economically cooperative to that diminutive, burger-selling cash-flow. So I decided to save me and my friends some undesirable budgeting by drawing a crappy map on some notebook paper and throwing together some story about pirates, hidden artifacts, and a bacon-flipping gnome bard with a penchant for fortuitously showing up whenever things were getting pretty dicey. This group was a learning experience for everyone, some realizing they were not the biggest fans of the game, some falling in love with it, some realizing that the game is not a ticket straight to hell like their father told them all their lives (and in during our game session), and others realizing that design and running a game (know as GMing, or Game Mastering) is far more fun to them then just playing a character. That’s me, I am talking about me with that latter realization.

My maps were the absolute definition of rudimentary at the beginning. I am very sorry that you are witnessing this.

Sadly, as many people who play pen and paper role-playing games can relate to, my group fell apart and I was once again alone with a passion that, whether I like it or not, requires other people. This became very temporary, because got some of the same friends and a few new ones to start a new group trying to stop a staff possessed by the vengeful spirit of a past king that was turning regional leaders into the worst versions of themselves. This group did not last long but thankfully one of my friends and previous player’s parents made a bold and ultimately extremely foolish, for them not me, decision to purchase a coffee shop and hold events in the dining are to try to get sales. My friend had the idea of hosting a nerdy game-night and asked me to run a game of Pathfinder. I happily accepted and created a new area in my previous game-world that was a beautiful plains-filled, ocean side nation that was ran by a council of religious leaders from almost all religions in the area, but that was suffering from attacks by demons coming from the southern hills.

The my first and last attempt at making a hand-drawn world map for my first world, Trystial.

This group was a major success for me, less so for the coffee shop that closed down in record speed and my friend who freaked out when her character died and through a chair and was kicked out of the group, but I truly had a blast developing all of this. Eventually, though, this group came to an end and I found myself creatively homeless again. I had worked on expanding my game-world to an entire continent at some point along that timeline, but I felt that I had failed it, and so, as we do with all the things we put years into lovingly create, I discarded it like it was worthless Pidgey that I can’t even make useful candy out of in Pokemon Go and started work on my newest world, Altrysta.

With Altrysta, I made an early design choice by starting small, a large collection of islands, and building out the rest of the world slowly. With the Annar Isles in place, and their dwarves, cat-people, and an invading roman-inspired empire at the ready, I started my first group in this world and my first group living back in the town with the University of Montana and where I first caught the Pathfinder bug. The group was comprised of mostly people from my hometown, who had also moved here and had been some of my early converts from our time at the coffee shop, mixed in with a few friends new friends. The rise and fall of a few kingdoms and cultures later over only a matter months, I had very prolific magic-using catfolk who should have been classified as a cataclysmic natural disaster, and this group ended as half of the group moved to Seattle. Though I was narratively homeless, I continued to develop the world and possible future stories.

Sometime during late 2017, I got caught up in the online discord community made by the people who had created the same-named Facebook group: Gay Geeks. This group was diverse and crazy and an absolute blast to game with. After a few months, they were asking for people to host virtual events with the already large and growing online community and my friends who knew of my Pathfinder past floated the idea that I start a group with people of the group. I agreed and after deciding to write a direct follow-up to the story that I had done in-person, started my first online-only group, and learned about the magnificence that is the Roll20 virtual gaming platform. This group was the first for me to use the great map-making service Inkarnate instead of my shameful handmade maps.

A map of the city of Tinali Vera, a refuge for gnomes that rests on an island that is floating above the center of the central island in the Annar Isles. My Fave.

We are now approaching our one-year anniversary, and though the player group is almost entirely different than the one it was back then, we still have a blast every Monday, with me crafting hundreds of pages of unique lands, memorable characters, and detailed narratives and them finding every way possible to ruin all my plans like a pack of crazed squirrels armed with nuclear bombs and FAR TOO MANY DAD JOKES (f.y.i. none of them are dads)!

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3 Replies to “How I Accidentally Built a Fantasy World”

    1. I would say micro. I love macro since I am at home designing the politics and history and how the people and nations blend together, whereas micro is fun and I definitely enjoy that part, but the little details take a lot of work and it is hard to not fall into the same tropes to fill out the rosters.

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