Behind the Curtain: Designing Gurutama

One of my friends has an obsession with Skype chat groups. Skype lets you add people into a chat so you get a group chat.

I think most people just use that and then recreate the same group everytime they want to talk with those folks.

My group of friends creates chat groups for specific topics and then revives the chat when we want to use it again.

We’ve got a group for discussing our ongoing D&D campaign, a group for RSVPing to D&D, a group for discussing Hackmaster, another for Crusader Kings 2, another for Overwatch, and one for discussing our ongoing collaborative effort to develop Gurutama as a fun campaign setting.

We’ve been typing in the Gurutama one a lot lately, talking about things like the politics and social class system of Najar, competing currencies, cosmology, and the mystery of the circumnavigation of a flat planet.

For a reminder, at one point in Gurutama’s history there was a Great Blockade of the western continent, Hearthland, by the merfolk.

Gurutama Map
The map I made of Gurutama using Campaign Cartographer.

There were numerous attempts to circumvent the blockade. One such attempt was made by Engrenildo who vowed that he would sail east and approach Hearthland from the west.

Engrenildo disappeared, never making it to Hearthland. Forty years later his grandson, Engrenildo the Third, landed on the western coast of the continent and setup a colony, Victoria, named in honor of his mother.

The odd part of this is that we decided early on the Gurutama was an actual factual flat world. You CANNOT circumnavigate it because you’d fall off.

So how did the Engrenildo family get from the Eastern Maw to Victoria? It’s a mystery that we wanted to explore at some point, but not when originally creating it.

Well, we began discussing it on that Skype chat and came up with something good.

I had a vision of Victoria as a trading port. It took goods from Hearthland and sent them back to the Eastern Maw in voyages that took about two months. Engrenildo’s journey wasn’t a one time thing, he’d found a new way to quickly traverse the world, either magically or through more mundane means.

I didn’t want to reveal what that method was. Gurutama is designed collaboratively and we also plan on passing off the DMing responsibilities. I figured whomever DMed an adventure that focused on Victoria’s trade routes should decide at that time, how the trade route worked and how Engrenildo controlled that information.

Well the Skype group wasn’t happy leaving it as an unknown. There was a push to either fill in the gap of how ships were going such a great distance in two months, or to just remove the trade route altogether and say that the journey was only made once.

Since more people wanted the trade route, we started brainstorming ways that ships could go so fast. Strong hidden currents? Magical wind machines? Time and space skipping whirlpools?

We landed on airships as the method of travel. Great big zeppelins with crew quarters and cargo containers attached.

Airships aren’t entirely out of place in a high fantasy setting. They’re present in a few steampunk settings such as Eberron and the Final Fantasy games. They’re in the Lufia series as well. Arcanum, World of Warcraft, etc.

We’d been leaning towards steampunk elements being around, but kept hidden and mostly secret. For example, muskets may exist, but they’re a closely guarded secret by a small Dwarven village that figured out the trick to making exploding powder.

Airships for Victoria’s trade route work great. We were looking for something that could be kept secret. While the airships themselves can’t be kept secret, the navigation and method of construction can.

So… voila! Victoria has a trade route that is extremely fast due to early air travel. Lots of fun can be had with that as an adventure concept. We filled in a secret, but the world has gotten more detailed and fun for us to play in.


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