The Mythic Ecology Worldbuilding Series: My Greater Ambitions

Since I've already started to put a lot of work into this Mythic Ecology Series, I figured I'd take a minute to explain more about the greater scope of it and my more ambitious plans.

PHASE 1-A: I am creating a system for fantasy worldbuilding based on the implicit story elements of natural and magical terrain. Drawing upon frameworks like Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, we can identify story archetype tags, then attach them to landscape features that serve as logical settings for those tags. Basically, we can make the progressions of physical travel in an adventure correspond to moods, themes, and narrative arcs more intentionally, for both storytelling and game design.

Ok, what does any of that really mean though? For example, a sandbar pointing directly to a newly formed micro-island can serve as an omen, the catalyst for a mysterious call to adventure. Perhaps the hero then departs from their familiar, established home with a mentor to go to an overlook, such as a tall beach headlands, to gain new perspective on the matter, finishing the call to adventure. From there the hero travels to a passageway, a threshold such as, say, a mystical whirlpool, which functions narratively as a portal and a test. Next, the hero might encounter a tight sea cave, a confined and treacherous abyss full of danger and hard choices. Eventually, they might arrive at a steep coast, the top of which serves as a sort of wide-open final battlegrounds against some monster, the arena bearing the risk of a ruinous fall over the edge.

Each landscape bears specific traits. Identifying the different story elements which rationally fit various natural terrain allows us to consider progressions in a much more useful way. It also reveals existing story gaps fit for new magical terrains, and opportunities for clever subversions of existing ones. To start with I’ve worked on the story features of each element of different biomes, a Mythic Ecology Index. But I want to do something more with it too.

After I finish the biomes, I'd go back and connect the different ones to the running D&D 5e Monster Lists people have made, going into a little more depth than the standard book indexes since I have a lot more detail than Wizards of the Coast's ecologies.

PHASE 1-B: From there, I want to create an Environmental Landscape Generator Tool which pulls from all of the terrain features, and includes further dynamic environmental modifiers, such as windswept, sunscorched, charred, overgrown, fogbound. I have a score of elemental modifiers I wish to include, with gameplay-relevant mechanics more visible in my Land Magic System later on. This generator would create complete narrative recipes based on a whole saga of travel across a defined story pattern. For more open-ended purposes like D&D gameplay, it would also serve as an index allowing a DM to find the easiest moods and themes to work with for wherever the player characters end up in a given scene.

PHASE 1-C: Eventually, I would add in a Land Age Warp Tool feature for the grander side of things, for whole fictional regions. Pulling out possible pasts and futures of a generated landscape, say, plus or minus 100 years, with a selectable ecological progression - climax, disturbance, or disaster - including specific and also selectable aspects like flood, fire, desertification, etc. This would start at a simple scale, e.g. with Bog instead of including every sub-type of Bog, but move toward the rest of the details later. Legitimate worldbuilding based on real ecoloy, with histories and trajectories.

PHASE 2: From there, I’d work on a multi-scale system for another tool, the Essential Fantasy Architecture Tool, which can superimpose over the earlier ones, and covers settlements and routes of travel and raw extraction zones (e.g. mines). It would also fit things into their specifically relevant landscapes (e.g. quarries go near mineral deposits). This would have a simple version using just the broad strokes (e.g. big settlements tend to arise near river crossroads), and a complex version with more detailed demographic details (e.g. a township has a haverdasher, a cobbler, a carpenter, etc.). Even general furnishings for rooms. Really fleshing out fantasy settlements in detail.

PHASE 3-A: At this point I would add in Magical Land Types and Magical Terrain Impacts, such as those of floating islands, the effects of disintegration, and alchemical substances. My homebrew world, Yridia, has many unique properties in those veins and this would support other classical ones too. All of this would also go into the generators.

PHASE 3-B: I would also add alternative technologies for fantasy economies, as I have a large index of that in the works as well, infrastructure that is complex but neither steampunk nor conventional industrial and adds yet another fun layer of interaction and detail to fictional worlds.

PHASE 4: Here I would fully flesh out my unique Land Magic System. This incorporates complex environmental impacts and interactions, both natural and magical. Environmental surface and cloud effects, as well as celestial phenomena. It approaches magic much differently than many fictional worlds, and I think it would be a really interesting mod for D&D. A unique landscape-specific magical system which incorporates climate and seasons in magic, as well as animate landscapes and natural spirits, divinities, abominations, and phantasms. Even terrain influenced by sentient cosmic forces, ley lines, magical wellsprings and nexuses. A complete cosmology and pantheon.

I have every part of this already begun, partially-in-progress, or waiting as mind-seeds I've mulled over for years. I’d love to share it with people in a useful way, and it will take time. I don't think I'll have it take up every past as there's still lots of other content I want to work on, such as homebrew, practical worldbuilding, and my D&D 5e Resource Compendium. But I am passionate about this project in particular and so I plan to pour a lot of energy into it in the coming months.

Feel free to join me for the ride, Outlander! With your support, we can make it happen :-)